Thursday, January 31, 2008

Call For Stories

My class this semester started on Monday, my second in the Department of Bioethics. It is called The Call of Stories: Using Narratives in Medical Ethics and it explores the role of medical narratives (illness stories), in the field of bioethics. As you might guess, it is right up my alley, being a combination of philosophical and literary approaches and so far, I love it. The class is composed of extremely interesting people: some med students, a veterinarian, some lawyers, a medical journalist, a few practicing physicians and taught by a visiting scholar who was in another life, a medical malpractice lawyer. I had to lobby long and hard to get into the class since it was outside of the School of Arts and Sciences but it was worth it.

Anyway, we are supposed to be thinking about our research projects for the semester and I hope to draw upon the wealth of information I have accumulated about Barbaro. In many ways, the Barbaro story can be viewed as an extremely compelling medical narrative, made even more interesting by the fact that the patient undergoing the illness could not of course tell it. Barbaro's tale was relayed by many interpretors, if you will, and each one probably put his/her own spin on it.

But what I find even more interesting is the fact that many people who were drawn to the Barbaro tale were in the midst of crafting medical narratives of their own. Some may have been recently diagnosed with illness, undergoing treatment or recovering from surgery. I wonder whether they saw in Barbaro a kindred spirit, a patient who was experiencing a medical crisis of his own and were inspired by his attempts to heal.

Of course this is all very complicated because we will never truly know how Barbaro himself felt because he couldn't tell us, but I think his interpretors were pretty savvy in horse communication. Assuming this to be true, I am wondering if any of you were attracted to the Barbaro tale because you yourself were in the midst of your own medical narrative and you looked to him for guidance, support and perhaps even inspiration.

I posted a call for stories on the Alex Brown web site and have received some fascinating tales. If you have one that you would like to share as part of my research, please leave me a comment and I will email you. You could also do this via Alex Brown's discussion board if you wish.

Please know that this is preliminary research for a topic that might change. I would, of course, change your names and keep all of your contact information confidential if I do decide to pursue it. I do not mean to diminish any one else's efforts at gathering these stories; what I am looking for at this point is fairly specific.

If you think you fit the bill, I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Goes Around....

The announcement by the Jacksons and Churchill Downs yesterday about Barbaro's final resting place is even more appropriate than I had imagined. Barbaro's ashes will be interred outside of Gate 1 at Churchill Downs, not behind the Kentucky Derby Museum in the memorial garden, as I had expected. This means that people who want to visit Barbaro's grave site will be able to do so without paying the entrance fee to visit the Museum. Chances are that they will want to do both, but it will also give all those who enter Churchill Downs via Gate 1, one of the main entrances, the opportunity to walk by a memorial to one of racing's greats, at the site of his greatest victory.

In addition, the location means that Barbaro will become the only horse to be buried on the actual grounds of Churchill Downs, another fitting distinction. If I am not mistaken, Gate 1 is very close to both the Kentucky Derby Museum and the paddock area, where Barbaro's name is already painted on the cornice that circles the walking arena, as one of the Derby winners.

Further reports indicate that the formal unveiling and dedication of the memorial, including a larger than life sized statue of Barbaro, will occur sometime in 2009--the year in which Nicanor, Barbaro's brother currently in training in Florida, will be eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby. What a dream that would be!!!!

Also, from my perspective, 2009 sounds like the story is going to be around for a while. It would be too amazing to think that this book of mine could come out to coincide with all those events....

Speaking of amazing, I must thank all the Fans of Barbaro for all their wonderfully supportive comments on my previous post, You've Got to Have Fans. I woke up yesterday to an outpouring of affection that had me wondering more than once if there wasn't a big, bay horse up there giving me a thumbs up. Thanks and please come back and visit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rest in Peace

So much for my prognostication skills. At 10: 00 this morning, Roy and Gretchen Jackson are the featured speakers at a Churchill Downs news conference. Although nothing is official until it happens, most presume the Jacksons will announce that Barbaro's final resting place will be the Kentucky Derby Museum, just outside the Churchill Downs race track and site of his thrilling 6 1/2 length victory in 2006. My hunch that it was the Kentucky Horse Park was wrong and in retrospect, the Jackson's decision, of course, makes all the sense in the world.

I have already told you that one year ago tomorrow, the day after Barbaro was euthanized, I spent the day at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, having previously scheduled my visit for research purposes. I will never forget the neon sign that scrolled outside the doors to the oval movie theater/reception area, the first exhibit you enter when you go through the museum. "Barbaro, thanks for the dream...." it read over and over in bright red letters.

Many people streamed into the museum with bouquets of flowers that they left at the feet of the statue that bore Barbaro's colors, as the reigning winner of the Derby and the movie that they showed in that oval theater repeated his thrilling victory on the half hour. I also toured the cemetery area just outside the Museum where other thoroughbred heroes are interred.

My guide, Tony Terry, the affable Director of PR at Churchill Downs who is in charge of staging what is arguably one of the biggest sporting events on the planet, told me that it was racing lore to bury the heads, hearts and hooves of thoroughbreds since those are their essence. Although Gretchen has admitted that she has been tempted many times to scatter some of Barbaro's ashes over the beautiful ground of Lael Farm, my guess is that the remains that will be interred at Churchill Downs, presumably at the foot of a statue of Barbaro, will be intact. The Jacksons are returning him to the site of his greatest victory, the feat for which he will be known for all time.

The front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer today carries a story about Barbaro's legacy that still lives on, a year after his death. It is a phenomenon made possible by the existence of Alex Brown's web site that continues to link the Fans of Barbaro together to do good deeds for horses everywhere. I have got to believe that it is an initiative that will be as hard to extinguish, as Barbaro's thrilling run down the stretch at Churchill Downs. "It's all Barbaro...." the announcer cried.

Yes it is. And as Roy Jackson said, "It still goes on."

Monday, January 28, 2008

You've Got to Have Fans

I written before about the Fans of Barbaro, the remarkable on line group who rallied around Alex Brown's web site to support their equine hero while he was at New Bolton Center for eight months. They are the ones who sent baskets of goodies to everyone involved with his care. They gave Barbaro a beautiful blanket and halter. They made sure the Christmas tree in the lobby of the large animal hospital was decorated in Lael Stable colors. They sent flowers, apples, peppermints, cards, and substantial checks for both the laminitis research and the Barbaro Fund.

What was truly remarkable is that none of these fans of Barbaro had ever met each other in person until last April when they rallied, some 600 strong, at Delaware Park, to celebrate what would have been Barbaro's actual 4th birthday. And once again, they raised money for laminitis research, auctioning off many horse related items at their fundraiser the night before.

And as we approach the anniversary tomorrow of Barbaro's death, they are once again contributing to the laminitis research fund at Penn, to help find a cure for the disease that claimed the object of their affection. Today, two Fans of Barbaro will make a quiet check presentation to Dr. Corinne Sweeney, Associate Dean for New Bolton Center and Executive Hospital Director and Dr. Dean Richardson in honor of Barbaro. The check amount is rumored to be over $7500.00, all raised from the Fans of Barbaro. This is the group that also quietly urges its members to contribute $29 the 29th of each month in honor of the day on which Barbaro died.

They are remarkable, dedicated, passionate, loving people who were drawn to Barbaro for different reasons, but primarily because he represented courage, grace under pressure and a desire to live and continue to please those who cared about and for him.

Hats off to you, Fans of Barbaro. Margaret Mead said it best: "Never doubt that a small number of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Plot Thickens

For those of you keeping score, there are now three new books about Barbaro being offered on Amazon--none of them mine. Two are not actually out yet--Edgar Prado's book, due out April 1 and a book by David M. Letell called Barbaro and Other Inspiring Horses due out April 30. The third is called Once a Derby Cathie Katz and seems to be available now.

I have known about Prado's book since about a year ago when I trooped to Florida to interview him, having prearranged the meeting with his agent via telephone. When I got to Florida, I connected with his agent once again and he told me just to call Edgar in the jocks' room at Calder Race Track between races and he would talk to me. Which I did, only to be told by Edgar himself that he couldn't speak to me until he spoke to the Jacksons to make sure I was "legit." "I can't just talk to anybody who says they're writing the authorized book," he told me. "I'll call you back." Which of course he never did, nor would he take any more of my calls.

I found out about a week later that he had signed a deal to write his own book and that he wouldn't be talking to anybody about Barbaro except his co-author, who actually does know a thing or two about racing. John Eisenberg, who is writing Prado's book, has written two previous books on horse racing and has a good reputation as a sports writer. I wish them luck because they are writing their book without the authorization of the Jacksons. I do know that Eisenberg called Gretchen for a quote or two but that is all the contact he has had with them.

The other two books are unknown to me as are their authors. I do not know anything about David Letell or Cathy Katz, other than to know that Katz has written quite a lot of books about nature, specifically beaches in Florida. How you get from beaches to Barbaro remains to be seen (clearly she had enough of a track record with a publisher to make the leap), but I do know that the Jacksons were not involved with these books in any way.

So what does all of this mean? Some might interpret it as "Barbaro overload;" others as the fact that the definitive book on the subject has not yet been written. Either way, no one is pounding down my door to hear the truth even as Barbaro himself appears to still be worth writing about.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Third Eye

For those of you wondering about Amos' acupuncture, I am posting these photos from his third session yesterday. If you look closely in between his two eyes, right in the middle of his forehead, you can see a needle placed in his third eye spot. Amos "graduated" to this distinction yesterday--he didn't get a third eye needle in his previous two sessions because he was still in training so to speak. Anyway, he is totally relaxed and mellow during the 20 minute "rest period" with needles in; he usually lies down across my lap when I sit on the floor and check my email.

I think the treatments are really and truly working. Amos went for a walk on all but two days this past week and he even seemed none the worse for his slide down the stairs across the tile floor. It is remarkable and even my vet said today that every time it works, she still finds it amazing that something so benign, with no side effects, could be so beneficial.

Here is Amos near the end of the session, ready to go home.
Other than needing a bath and a haircut, he is looking pretty good!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Creatures of Habit

We are doing a bit of long overdue sprucing up around the house that has sent the dogs into a mild state of alarm. First project was new carpet for the stairs that seemed to be a straight forward endeavor. Until we selected a pattern that would not wrap around the bottom banister newel and necessitated exposing the wood on the bottom two stairs. Which looked so great that we decided to put a runner on the stairs not the wall to wall that had been there. So we had to refinish all of the stairs.

"No problem," said our wonderful painter who worked magic as always. The first day he exposed the bottom two stairs which for some reason had never been stained. He left the carpet running down the middle of the remaining stairs which meant we could use them. The dogs were so upset by the lack of carpet on the bottom stairs (only on their way down the stairs; going up they were fine), that they would get two steps from the bottom and stand there, totally bewildered. Amos even jumped over the last two stairs and then went sliding down the hall on the tile floor we have throughout the downstairs. (Couldn't have been too good for those arthritic elbows...)

Yesterday, however, did them in. All of the carpet disappeared and all of the stairs are now exposed wood. To protect his work, the painter hung yellow police tape across the bottom and put a baby gate across the top. Luckily we have a back staircase, but the dogs were positively stymied. Phoebe stood in the center hall and crowed like a rooster at the yellow tape that would not permit her to go upstairs. Amos just walked in circles. I took them up and down the back staircase about six times, but it just wouldn't sink in. They knew they got upstairs, but they couldn't remember how!

Today, the painter finished touching up the molding along the steps so the stairs are still off limits although there is no yellow tape. It is actually irrelevant; the dogs will not go up and down those stairs without carpeting. Which wouldn't be a problem if they weren't used to following me everywhere all day. So right now I have two very miffed canines, who are more than welcome to use the back staircase with carpet, but who instead look at me with these eyes that tell me how very disappointed they are in my behavior. After all, we are just guests in their house and right now we aren't behaving like we will be invited back!

Stay tuned. The new carpet doesn't come for another week!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Barbaro's Law is Upside Down

In the category of strange but apparently true, I bring to your attention the news release posted on the discussion board of Alex Brown's web site about a statue of Barbaro to be displayed in Central Park in New York City that depicts the Kentucky Derby winner on his back, with his hooves in the air. According to the news release, the statue will be unveiled April 30, the week of the 134th Kentucky Derby at the location in Central Park where a carriage horse was tragically killed last year.

This statue is part of a campaign to introduce a bill in Congress, titled Barbaro's Law, that will mandate disclosure of race-related horse injuries and fatalities. It is part of a concerted effort on the part of the artist and gallery owners of Manhattan's Leo Kestling Gallery, in the meat packing district, to bring attention to horse protection legislation.

I am not quite sure what to make of this development and you will need to go to the website for yourself to see the depiction of Barbaro on his back and form your own conclusions. My initial reaction was that clearly the artist is indicting Team Barbaro for trying to save the horse for his stud potential--an accusation that could not be farther from the truth. But that is my word against theirs and they are, of course, entitled to think whatever they want.

Frankly, however, in my opinion they are doing nothing for their cause when the artist's previous sculptures include a "nude Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug, an interactive autopsy of Paris Hilton with removable organs, and a war dead Prince Harry clutching the cameo-locket of his late mother Princess Diana." Hey, I couldn't make that up even if I tried.

The web site features a petition to sign to support Barbaro's Law. You would be better served by supporting what I dub the Barbaro Bill in the book, the resolutions already circulating through Congress to ban the transport of horses across state lines for slaughter.

What this says to me, more than anything, is that the Barbaro story is still alive in so many ways, that it is almost unbelievable that no publisher, to date, wants to take a chance on this book. I mean if someone thinks they can put a statue of Barbaro on his back in Central Park, then at the very least, someone should give me a break and let me write the truth.

As for the artist and gallery owners, I'm pretty sure the Fans of Barbaro will set upon them like a pack of wolves and the Jackson's attorneys will never permit a statue of Barbaro on his back, to be displayed in Central Park. But then again, stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cooperstown continued

Yesterday my curiosity got the better of me and I climbed up in the attic to look through my "archives" for the story about the baseball board game collection that is going to be traveling to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The truth is, I could remember bits and pieces of the collection but very little about the collector and it was bothering me. Lo and behold, I found it neatly filed with all my collection stories that I had moved to the attic about three years ago.

The date of the story is September 4, 1997 and it originally appeared in the Arts & Leisure magazine section of the local newspaper which could have been one reason why I couldn't remember it. The story was the feature in the section and got a beautiful two page spread. And even more astounding, among my notebooks (reporters never throw anything away!) was the collector's phone number at work, which, on a lark, I called. The voice mail was indeed the same collector who said he was in the office and would return the call. So I left a message.

Long story short, the collector and I had a wonderful chat yesterday afternoon and the exhibit, which opens this Spring in Cooperstown and runs for a full year, is the culmination of thirty years of collecting. He is considered the leading authority on baseball board games and in fact wrote a book about their history in 1993. And this will be the only time in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame that the space, in which between 70 and 75 of his pieces are going to be displayed, will be devoted to just one person. There was no doubt in my mind that the story deserved a follow up on a national level.

So I dashed off an email to Agent Number 2 to see if he could help with placement only to learn rather quickly that this type of stuff was out of his "league." (No comments needed.) In the interim, I had already queried Smithsonian magazine and later last night, the Us Air in flight magazine, thinking that both were good homes for the story. Now comes the waiting--at least 3 to 4 weeks, assuming they read their email. I will probably send the same query to Southwest's magazine as well but that seems to be a tougher sell. The writer's guidelines indicate it is "tightly scripted" with little room for freelancers. But you never know.

If all else fails, I know I can place the story locally but I think it deserves a bigger audience. The collector also told me that they are looking for an original version of the story so I am off to the local newspaper to peruse their archives later this afternoon.

A couple of lessons here. First, keep good records. Second, good stories never die; they just get better with age. And third, even a great story is a tough sell on the national level. On some level everything comes down to who you know so if anyone knows anyone anywhere who might have some connection to a national vehicle for this story, let me know.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Curlin is Horse of the Year

Curlin, the winner of the Breeder's Cup Classic and the Preakness, among other significant races, won Horse of the year last night at the Eclipse Awards in Los Angeles. According to the AP, Curlin dominated the voting, receiving 249 first-place votes. Todd Pletcher was named trainer of the year; Garrett Gomez was jockey of the year and Breeder's Cup Juvenile winner War Pass was named top 2-year old male, making him the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Curlin is also in the news because two of his original owners are currently in jail in Kentucky for fraud related to the diet medication phen-fen. It is a very complicated legal situation (someone should write a book about that!) that has resulted in numerous court battles and I don't pretend to be well versed in all the details. However, the plans are for Curlin to race as a four year old, which I suspect may be because of the legal difficulties currently associated with syndicating him for stud

The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington won a special Eclipse award for contributions to thoroughbred racing. The Park, which was home to the late John Henry, hosts nearly 900,000 visitors a year, including those who come for equestrian events as well as the daily Parade of Champions. It is also home to numerous retired champions of the racetrack and show ring. This is one more reason why I think it will also be chosen as Barbaro's burial site, although I do not have any official word on that.

Word does have it, however, that the Fans of Barbaro are planning a check presentation at New Bolton Center on January 28th, one day before the first anniversary of his death. Personnel at New Bolton wanted the 29th to be a quiet day with no formal observances which is why the 28th was chosen. I am awaiting further details from New Bolton about this presentation and I hope to attend.

With the Eclipse Awards over, racing begins the official countdown to the Kentucky Derby, Saturday , May 3.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cooperstown and Me

At least ten years ago, maybe more, I did a series for our local newspaper about people who had collections of antiques. It was actually fascinating--you would not believe what some people collect--and I met a lot of people who were passionate about everything from telephones and spittoons to museum quality American flags, dolls and even baseball memorabilia. It turned out to be a popular feature and we played with the idea of doing a book or calendar (the publisher of the newspaper also published glossy magazines), but nixed it for, you guessed it, limited marketability.

In any event, on Friday night we took our eldest son out to dinner for his birthday and as we were leaving this rather trendy, South Philly restaurant, a woman approached me and asked if I remembered her. She looked familiar but I couldn't place her and I asked for a clue. Well, it turns out that I had written an article about her husband's baseball collection way back when and sixty four of the items in his collection are now headed for Cooperstown, NY to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I am not exactly sure if these artifacts are going to be on loan or part of the permanent collection, but she did tell me that two curators from the Hall of Fame came to their house and selected the articles they wanted to display. And get this: among the pieces they chose was a copy of my article which they had framed and displayed on their wall. So Cooperstown, here I come!

My husband says we need to make a pilgrimage (a grand excuse, no doubt to finally visit!) but it sounds like fun. I am awaiting further details from the owner of these items as to whether or not there is a formal exhibition opening, but I will keep you posted.

Just goes to show you, you never know where your words will end up.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bentley's Legacy Continues

My personal and professional association with the University of Pennsylvania Vet School began in 2002 when our collie, Bentley, was diagnosed with lymphoma. We decided to treat him at Penn and I began a 22 week adventure that culminated in the article Saving Bentley (to which there is a link on the right side of this blog). It actually took me a long time to write the article after Bentley died and it wasn't published about a year after he died. Some time after that, my new found friends at the vet school called me up to see if I was interested in writing a follow up book about pets with cancer. You see, they had received over $250,000 in unsolicited contributions for cancer research based on my story.

I tell you this because this is where I was when the Barbaro adventure began: hanging out at the vet school, taking my courses and trying to piece together a narrative book about the amazing things that were happening in oncology at Penn vet.

One of those amazing things made ABC news last week. Kyra, a ten year old Rhodesian Ridgeback dog is a three year lymphoma survivor, due to a vaccine she received in a breakthrough study conducted by canine and human oncologists at Penn. Over 4 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer each year (more than humans, by the way) and because of their shorter life span, doctors are able to study both the progression of the disease and treatment options more quickly in dogs than in humans. So Kyra and a number of dogs enrolled in the trial study of a lymphoma vaccine are literally paving the way for humans and living to tell the tale.

It is an astounding breakthrough and one that radiation oncologist, Dr. Lili Duda, had been hoping for since way back when I interviewed her. She always thought that we shouldn't be injecting lab mice with human diseases but rather studying those that occur naturally in animals, cancer being the primary one. It's a concept that appeases the animal welfare activist in all of us and has the potential to save lives. Who can argue with logic that seems to work?

So Bravo to Penn for pushing the boundaries. Gratitude to those owners who were willing to enroll their pets in the study and just a tiny twinge of regret that Bentley couldn't have benefited from the research.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Amos and His Insurance

Amos, the limping collie, had his fourth acupuncture treatment yesterday and I do think he is a little better. One thing about acupuncture and dogs is that there is no placebo effect. As far as we know, a dog doesn't "think" he is getting better because he has pins placed in him. It either works or it doesn't.

My experience with Lucy, our now deceased golden /lab mix, was actually nothing short of miraculous. She got two extra years of her life due to acupuncture so I'm willing to hang in there for a bit. At $38 a session it seems like a relative bargain.

The big question is whether or not Amos' pet insurance will cover acupuncture. I submitted the first claim for the services last week so we will have to wait and see. I think I remember someone telling me that they do, which would be wonderful.

A few words about pet insurance, of which I am a huge fan. It seems as if companies such as Comcast, Home Depot, the Walt Disney Company and Sprint are offering their employees pet insurance as a benefit. Of course it doesn't cost the companies a dime since the employees (a tiny fraction of whom actually sign up for the benefit) pay the full cost of the perk but it is seen as a statement about the company's attitudes toward their employees. According to MSNBC, Paul Berg, Del Monte's vice president of compensation and benefits, "Nobody's going to leave or stay because of it but it shows we understand that pets are just a very, very important part of the family." It doesn't hurt, of course, that Del Monte itself entered the pet products market a few years ago.

Just the other day I got two checks for over $200 for reimbursement of some of Amos' expenses, including the $500 set of x-rays. With four months to go on this year's premium, I figured out that I have already collected all but about $75 of his yearly $400 premium in reimbursements. Mind you, Amos has the superior coverage which is about $100 more than the standard, so I think we're doing pretty well. Of course, you don't always get it back every year (and you actually don't want to if you think about it), but I still find the coverage to be a mental security blanket. VPI is our carrier if you are interested.

The major thing to remember is that the only time it is worth it to get pet insurance is when you get a puppy and there are no pre-existing conditions. Otherwise, it truly is cost-prohibitive.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Martha Stewart's Bully Pulpit

This is a video of Susan Wagner, founder of Equine Advocates who appeared on the Martha Stewart Show on Wednesday of this week. Martha, an animal lover par excellence, has done more to promote the cause of anti-slaughter than anyone by inviting Susan on the show. The video is well worth watching.
Now if we could only get Martha behind the cause of selling this book......

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy birthday KYEHC!

If the book ever gets published, you will read about Staci Hancock, the driving force behind the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KYEHC) and the person who introduced Gretchen Jackson to the cause of anti-slaughter. Staci and her husband Arthur are legendary breeders in Lexington; they bred Gato del Sol, the winner of the 1982 Kentucky Derby.

Staci's knowledge of slaughter practices began after she read about another thoroughbred legend, Exceller, who had been sold to a breeder in Scandinavia after he proved to be less than a prolific stud. This breeder went under and Exceller was ultimately taken to a slaughterhouse because his owner could not afford to keep him. Gato had also been sold to a European buyer in 1991 and once she read about Exceller's horrific end, Staci launched a one woman campaign to bring Gato home.

She succeeded and in 1993 Gato returned to Stone Farm where he lived out his days. Gato del Sol succumbed to the infirmities of age on August 7, 2007 at the ripe old age of 28.

Once Staci became aware of the practice of horse slaughter in this country, however, she latched on to the cause with the tenacity of a bulldog. She joined a local group to lobby Kentucky state senators. As one of her jobs, Staci wrote to all Kentucky Derby winners to ask them to support House Resolution 503. After the Jacksons won the Derby, she wrote to them. Like Staci, Roy and Gretchen had been unaware of the existence of horse slaughter in America and became fervent supporters of anti-slaughter legislation.

One of the byproducts of Staci's involvement with the anti-slaughter groups has been the creation of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, a horse rescue operation that is a refuge for unwanted and abused horses. They recently celebrated their one year anniversary and their newsletter is available on the website. You can sign up to receive copies free of charge and also read about their efforts to save horses.

Staci is a remarkable woman and her organization is well-worth your perusal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ashes to Ashes...

Word is out that the Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owners, are nearing a decision about the final resting place of their Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro. Since the horse was euthanized and subsequently cremated, his remains have resided in the Jackson's hall closet in a very large and heavy cardboard box.

Many places have been vying to be Barbaro's burial site, including the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY and the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. There was also talk of a racing museum in Pennsylvania, but that, according to the Jacksons, has been shelved.

The burial of an actual horse carcass is a literal big deal. It requires a back hoe and a very large hole. Ruffian was buried in the infield at Belmont Park near the finish line where she tragically broke down in her match race. Man O War, whose funeral was a semi-national event over 2000 people attended, was originally buried at owner August Belmont's farm in Lexington and then re-interred at the Kentucky Horse Park 20 years later under a statue erected in his honor.

The Jacksons have promised a similar statue and in fact they are now deciding on the artist. When they have reached their final decision, they will announce where the statue and Barbaro's grave will reside.

My guess is the Kentucky Horse Park, a wonderful facility in Lexington where many older racehorses are retired and visited by their fans. The late John Henry spent his later years there. Wherever they choose, it is certain that there will be many fans who make a visit to his grave.

It is interesting that this story appeared in many national newspapers as well as industry publications. As we approach the one year anniversary of Barbaro's death, the story is very much alive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A New Veterinary Organization

As my previous posts have indicated, the American Veterinary Medical Association in the United States is often at odds with animal welfare organizations for numerous reasons. For instance, the AVMA's official position on slaughter is the opposite of those who are trying to push anti-slaughter federal legislation through the House and Congress.

It is important to realize however that not all vets support the official position of their national organization. Yesterday, the Humane Society of the United States announced the formation of a new organization, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), to, as the web site of the United States Humane Society states, "give a home to veterinarians who want to associate themselves with progressive leadership on animal protection issues." The new group combines the efforts of the Humane Society of the US and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights.

The AVMA's position on slaughter is not the only example of their divergence with the United States Humane Society on animal welfare issues. According to Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the US, the AVMA does not oppose the force feeding of geese for foie gras or the confinement of laying hens for egg production, among other issues.

My guess is that this is a battle of two national organizations who represent the extremes of opposing positions because of financial implications . It is hard to imagine the AVMA willingly supporting inhumane activities without "just" cause--even if that cause is financial (and I suspect it is). It is equally hard to imagine that the United States Humane Society would willingly divorce itself from those who provide care to the constituency it is charged with protecting.

Here's hoping the new organization provides a way for the two groups to meet halfway, perhaps without the pressures imposed by the financial sponsors of the separate organizations. After all, one would hope that it would always be about the best interest of the animals.

Monday, January 14, 2008

This Is Not Ping-Pong

Yesterday afternoon we went to see the finals of the Olympic Trials in table tennis that were held in Philadelphia over the weekend at Drexel University. This sport should not in any way be confused with the ping pong you might have played at camp or in your basement. This is a 100 mph game of reflexes, finesse, skill and mental toughness. In fact, it might be 50% skill and 50% nerves of steel but it is incredibly fun to watch.

This game is all about the spin the players put on the ball. It begins with the serve that comes in as many variations as the ways in which the players hold the paddles. Some throw the ball high only to slice it mid-fall with the precision of a surgeon. Others coddle the ball like an egg and then fling it off their paddles with a flick of the wrist so intricate that the ball often ends up absolutely no where near where you might think it would go. Some points are fast, hard hitting power plays with players scrambling around the table at breakneck speeds. Others are delicate "drop shot" battles with the ball barely traveling over the net. Some are combinations of the two.

The Chinese dominate the sport and have so for many years. In fact many members of the American team are of Chinese descent, some having actually played for the Chinese team. But then there are the rising stars: 14 year old Ariel Hsing from California who never seems to stop moving and 19 year old Barbara Wei, a freshman at Penn. But the best news is that this seems to be one sport where age truly does not matter. Former Yugoslavian (now American) Olympic team member Ilija Lupulesku is going strong at 40 and so is Jasna Reed at 37.

Think about it. No tennis elbow, rotator cuff injuries or sore backs from power serves. The ball doesn't hurt you when you get hit. And while these guys work up a sweat, I think the wear and tear on joints is fairly minimal.

Talk about a sport for life. Makes you want to dust off that basement table......

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What's in a Name?

Apparently more than I thought. Careful readers of this blog might notice that it is now authored by Kathryn Levy Feldman rather than Kit Feldman. Of course they are one and the same except in the Google search lexicon.

A friend tipped me off to the importance of the Google search function in driving traffic to the blog and asked if I wrote the blog under Kit or Kathryn. Actually I had intentionally authored the blog under Kit, intending to create (at least in my mind) a separate persona from the objective, professional Kathryn. Kit was the one you ran into in the grocery store (and still do). Kathryn was the one you thought of hiring to write your corporate history (and still can).

Apparently Google does not recognize us as the same person. If you google Kathryn Levy Feldman, you will get a list of some of my work. If you google Kit Feldman, you will get some of my blog entries. If you google Barbaro, by the way, you encounter many more Barbaro articles, including blogs, before I presume you find mine. I gave up before I got to mine. All of which means that whomever finds this blog via googling Barbaro, must be very persistent.

It would be optimum, of course, if Google could send those who search for Kit Feldman to Kathryn Feldman and this might be a job for my Mac geniuses. Everything gets even more complicated when you add in the middle name, creating ostensibly two more people, Kit Levy Feldman and Kathryn Levy Feldman, and a plethora of search possibilities.

Of course I have absolutely no idea if any of this will make a difference in my readership (which is growing steadily by the way) but in the interest of consistency, I decided to use my byline to author everything I write.

Which means that the name may have changed but not the face.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Temple Grandin et al

The New York Times weighed in yesterday with another article about the consequences of closing the slaughter plants in the United States. According to the article, many horses sold at auction are now being transported across the borders to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada, adding insult to injury in the form of grueling travel. To make matters worse, the article cites the slaughter conditions in Mexico and Canada as being even worse than those in the United States and quotes Temple Grandin, a well known figure in the world of animal welfare as saying "her worst nightmare has happened."

The Fans of Barbaro have weighed in heavily with their responses to the article, many of them directed toward Dr. Grandin. Before I tackle that, I should tell you that the bills pending in Congress ban the transport of live animals across state borders for slaughter, but we all know how long those bills have been making the rounds of the Congressional chambers.

As for Dr. Grandin, she is indeed an interesting figure. The author of numerous books about autism (from which she suffers) and animal welfare (for which she claims to be an advocate), she has made a career out of combining the two. According to Grandin, her autism enables her to see the world in pictures, which she claims is remarkably akin to the way in which animals view the world. She acts as a consultant to livestock slaughter facilities, helping them design methods of leading cows to slaughter that are more humane, at least from the animals' points of view. I read her book, Animals in Translation, in which she outlines the methods she uses to develop less slippery flooring and more open waiting pens for example which she says alleviates some of the anxiety felt by cattle being herded to slaughter.

The Fans of Barbaro are not buying any of it, most of them saying that animals can smell and sense death, slippery floor or not. The only solution would be to end mass slaughter completely of all livestock (Read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for a description of "humane slaughter" of chickens to understand the difference) and to, of course, ban the transport of livestock across state borders, which they are trying to do.

The age old problem of our intricate relationship with animals has confounded philosophers for years. It is hard to rationalize our dependency on the animals who are dependent on us but short of reverting to a hunter/gatherer existence, we are pretty much stuck.

I'm sure I'll hear from you with regard to this issue on which no one seems to be passive.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What Makes Curly Coats Hypoallergenic?

I spent half a day at the small animal hospital at Penn yesterday with my limping collie. He has arthritis in his elbows, actually it is relatively mild, and the prescription was for Rimadyl, an anti-inflammatory medicine that has met with some controversy lately. For the time being, I am taking him to my vet today for some more acupuncture and to review the pros and cons of Rimadyl versus baby aspirin. He hardly seems bothered; in fact, I think it hurts me more than him to see him limping.

Anyway, the wait is always a factor when you visit a teaching hospital and while I was waiting for the paperwork after the exam, I hung out in the waiting room where I made the acquaintance of the most adorable miniature labra-doodle puppy. All curls and wags and affection, the little guy was in for food allergy testing and was just a bundle of love. These designer breeds have been around for a while now, their chief benefit being their lack of shedding and hypoallergenic coats. All of which sounded wonderful to me as I picked skeins of collie hair off my clothes, coat and car.

It turns out that there is a horse that is also hypoallergenic and it too has a curly coat. The American Curly Horse, in fact is becoming the rage in Europe and an entire Curly breeding farm has recently opened in France. According to the official web site (where you should go to see a picture of the absolutely wonderful looking animals!), the origins of this breed are unknown but they can still be found in wild mustang herds out West. Their coats are curliest in the winter when they are the longest; in summer many shed out although their manes and tails are usually always curly.

So what is the correlation, if there is one, between curly coats and allergic reactions? I'm guessing it has more to do with the type of dander (or lack thereof) that these curly coats produce but if anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, those curly coated horses, in my opinion, are absolutely spectacular!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Amazing Ride

If the Barbaro thing doesn't work out, racing has an astounding number of stories that are almost equally as compelling. Take, for example, the tale of Sylvia Harris, who, according to, became the first African American jockey to win a race at Hawthorne Race Track (outside Chicago) and one of only a "handful" of female African American jockeys to win a race, period. Oh, and by the way, she is 40 years old!

Harris' ride to fame did not come easy. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19, she drifted in and out of employment for almost two decades. She hit rock bottom in 1999, living out of her car in Orlando. A pastor helped get her back on her feet and she eventually met Elmer Heubeck, Jr, who owned Quail Roost Farm in Citra, Florida. It turned out that Heubeck was in search of a groom. He hired Harris, taught her to ride but then died about six months later. His wife also passed away and the farm was shut down. Harris found another job at another training center in Florida and eventually moved to Virginia where she got her exercise riding license at Charles Town.

By 2005, she was on the road again en route to Canada where she heard they needed jockeys. She only got as far as Chicago where she was hired by trainer Bettye Gabriel. She got her apprentice license in Chicago that same year and actually rode her first mount during the Arlington meet that summer. When Arlington closed and Hawthorne opened, she hooked up with trainer Charlie Bettis, who gave her work galloping some horses and an occasional mount.

One of those was Wildwood Pegasus, whom she guided to a third place finish on November 7. It was Wildwood Pegasus who gave her the wire to wire win on December 1. It was Harris' 17th mount and puts her in the record books.

As for Harris, she doesn't care if she wins another race. "That was a blessing," she said. "That was all I needed....I don't need to be a jockey. I've proved that I can do this and it has given me confidence. I'd like to keep riding for as long as I can, but my goal is to be an assistant trainer. I'm at peace."

Can't you just see those movie credits rolling now? It's a classic tale of triumph over adversity, courtesy of grit, determination and a few kind souls who believe. And it doesn't hurt that horses help make it happen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Slaughterhouse Factor Revisited

Monday's Wall Street Journal carried an article about horse over population that presents an interesting perspective on the repercussions related to the shut down of American slaughterhouses. In 2007, the last of these foreign owned slaughterhouses was closed due to sustained pressure from numerous animal rights groups including many Fans of Barbaro.

As the article details, horse ownership in the United States has reached record levels over the past decade, fueled in part by retiring baby boomers and their penchant for large homes equipped with everything, including horses grazing in the back yard. These owners often dabble in "backyard breeding' leading to a plethora of horses that may be cute when they are foals, but grow up to eat just as much hay and need just as much veterinary care as their parents. With the recent drought, hay prices have nearly tripled and expenses pile up. The unfortunate result is that many of these horses are turned out to nibble in barren fields and end up literally starving to death.

Enter the wonderful folks who run horse rescue operations, all with good intentions and large hearts, but even they are often overwhelmed by the numbers of horses that need to be rescued. Horse keeping is an expensive hobby and many are sucked in by those big brown eyes that they don't realize need constant care and attention.

In the past, horse slaughter houses, as vile as the thought may be, provided an outlet for unwanted horses. I remember attending a panel discussion at Penn last spring on this very topic. Dr. Midge Leitch, a longtime Penn large animal vet, who actually was a resident with Dean Richardson, Barbaro's surgeon, outlined the facts in black and white. She explained the American Veterinary Medical Association's position of supporting slaughter by saying it was a far more humane end for horses than letting them starve to death. In the most clinical of terms, the practice also controlled overpopulation.

Stark and perhaps not for the soft hearted, but realistic. The costs of keeping, caring for and even euthanizing a horse are often more than the average owner can afford. If nothing else, slaughter plants offered these owners an alternative to simply letting their horses fend for themselves, usually with disastrous results.

I'm actually not sure where I stand on this topic but I do think it's always important to realize that every issue always has two sides.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Big Think

Larry Summers, the ex-president of Harvard University (of the women don't go into the sciences scandal) and a local resident in my neck of the woods, has invested in the new web site Big Think, touted as a You Tube for intellectuals. The premise is intriguing: a bunch of intelligentsia ponder the great questions of our times. Is the two party system working? Is global warming a real threat? What is the next big thing?

Sounded worth a visit so I did yesterday and was less than impressed. The site is easy enough to navigate and join so you can post comments to the topics on which various leaders in their fields wax poetic. But the jazzy "Big Think" graphics and music that precede every video conversation get old pretty fast.

The list of big thinkers who have contributed video musings is impressive, especially for its range of participants: everyone from law professors at Harvard to the founder of the New York Social Register. But it would be helpful to have a list of who these people are and what they do closer to the beginning since many do not have instant name recognition, at least for me.

That said, I found the answers to the questions: What inspires you and describe your creative process to be fascinating. For most of those who make a living by putting words to paper, i. e. Josh Lieb, co-producer of the Daily Show and Calvin Trillin, novelist, writing is work and they say so. The romantic notion of inspiration from on high just doesn't ring true. Ideas come from everywhere and are usually based on research, experience and careful observation. The act of putting these thoughts to paper is often painstaking.

As Josh Lieb said, "It's just work."

It is indeed for those lucky enough to get paid for thinking.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

We're getting a new mayor, Michael Nutter, in Philadelphia today and with it a new agenda for our city. He promises the end of corruption, favoritism and politics as usual. He is soliciting the best and the brightest to help him wage this campaign for change and for the time being, it is a wonderful thing to ponder the possibilities.

My parents ran a first time starter at Gulfstream Park yesterday in a maiden race. She had never run in a race and before hand my father was already envisioning a trip to the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby for fillies. We were traveling yesterday but he told me if I got home in time, the race would be on channel 248 (or something like that) and I should be sure to watch.

We got home too late to watch her not win, but that hasn't dampened my father's spirits. "First time starter," he explains. "She's a little green but give her time."

The beginning of January seems to be all about hope and optimism. A new year, a new agenda and a new chance to change or make history.

Here's hoping some of that rubs off on the publishers reading my proposal.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Derby Prep I

The road to the Kentucky Derby has officially begun! Yesterday's running of the Grade II Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida is usually viewed as an early prep for the Derby even though it is only 7 furlongs long.

Yesterday's race went off on a sloppy track and was won by a long shot: Smooth Air who seemed to favor the mud. The three year old colt hung in there gamely and won by a length. To me, he looked perfectly positioned at the top of the stretch. He made a move between horses and seemed to finish strong, although his jockey did whip him a bit to get him into "gear."

I usually don't like to see a horse whipped but at this time of the year it is all about lack of experience, which was very evident in this race. Horses veer, look around and often fail to perform without some, often not so subtle, techniques to get their attention. To his credit, Smooth Air did not seem to mind getting mud kicked up in his face which was unprotected by blinkers or a shadow roll.

Much too early in the game to predict whether or not this horse can go the distance but the race for Kentucky will start to get interesting between now and mid-March with the Florida and California horses staking their claims to run for those roses.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Media Eclipse for Barbaro

Yesterday's Blood Horse reported that the HBO documentary, Barbaro, won the Eclipse Media Award for 2007. The honor, which will be given out at the Eclipse dinner in Los Angeles on January 21, is the horse industry's equivalent of an Oscar. Eclipse Awards are highly coveted and are awarded to horses in various categories such as Sprinter, Juvenile, Turf and of course Horse of the Year. Last year, Team Barbaro, won a special Eclipse for their efforts to save the horse and Barbaro was in the running for Horse of the Year.

The Barbaro documentary, which is the one that screened at Unionville High School in Unionville, Pa back in June, beat out the NBC documentary about Barbaro that was screened at Barbaro's birthday party in April at Delaware Park. What is interesting is that the HBO documentary was not the first full length feature on the deceased horse and it focused more on the human characters in the drama, notably the Jacksons.

I actually remember when HBO was filming at the Jackson's farm. It was in February of last year, after Barbaro had been euthanized, and ever the gracious hosts, the Jacksons opened their home to hordes of media types who descended in droves. I don't think they expected quite the entourage that it took to create the piece. But I do know they were quite pleased with the result, which depicts them as unwavering in their determination to save their horse's life--not for breeding purposes but because it was the right thing to do.

At the screening, I met Frank DeFord, HBO's senior statesman, so to speak, and one of the great sportswriters (in my opinion) of all times. It didn't hurt that he went to Princeton so that is how I approached him and he was actually eager to talk about what I had planned for the book. "What's left to say?" I remember him asking me. I still think there is a lot--especially given the perspective of time--but it may in fact turn out that he was right.

Frank DeFord's commentaries are archived on NPR and if you get a chance see if you can find one of his recent ones about the Boston Red Sox and how they have, in fact, turned into the Yankees and in the process, lost some of their unique appeal. He is wry, very smart and not afraid to write about sports with a glint of intelligence.

As for the Eclipse, it just proves, once again, that great stories stand the test of time.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Rinse a Day....

Every once in a while I am truly ahead of the curve. Yesterday's Style section in the New York Times touted the use of the neti pot ("A bidet for your nose, proclaimed Oprah"), a small pot used to cleanse your sinuses. I have been a devotee of the system for over ten years and am convinced of its effectiveness.

Not to be too graphic, but the concept is based on a system of washing out your sinuses with warm water and a saline solution. One key is the use of pickling salt--available on the Internet--which is critical to success. You mix up a batch, pour it into this funny shaped pot and rinse your sinuses, over the sink. Actually today there are prepared sinus rinses that you can buy in the drugstore that are less labor intensive and do the same thing.

I happened upon this technique upon the suggestion of my allergist who was tired of prescribing antibiotics for repeated sinus infections. She handed me an article about pickling salt that she had clipped from some medical journal and told me I had nothing to lose. Ten years later, I am her poster child for what she calls "lavage." She tells me I have influenced many of her other patients to give it a try.

Just like everything else, it requires consistency and commitment and is not for the squeamish. Maybe you have to be desperate to be willing to pour water through your nose on a regular basis. But then again, maybe you have to be desperate to be willing to try anything new and uncomfortable.

Now that Oprah has endorsed it, you should probably buy shares in companies that sell pickling salt. Or better yet, if you suffer from sinus related conditions, give it a try.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Good News/Bad News

Here's the good news: there is no Barbaro related book on USA Today's list of "picks" in this coming publishing year.

Here's the bad news: no new news from anyone interested in taking a chance on mine.

To be fair, it is still probably too early to expect to hear anything from the latest publisher, Globe Pequoit, to which we submitted the proposal right before Christmas. I am still holding out hope for them to come through and enjoying my respite in Florida (where it is actually beautiful but very cold....).

The USA Today list is intriguing for its lack of animal related titles. In our dog-infatuated culture, I did expect a plethora of puppy titles but spied only two animal tomes that look mildly intriguing. One is due out in late February: Nim Chimsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, the story of the chimp who learned American Sign Language and communicated effortlessly with his trainers. This chimp recently passed away at a ripe old age and I heard his trainers interviewed on NPR. It is an interesting story of animal intelligence and probably a fascinating read for anyone who doubts that we are related to the species.

There is another novel due out in March, The Labrador Pact that touts itself as a story of a family with a fiercely loyal canine. Sounds like much more of the same dog related mystery genre that has seemed to populate book stores recently.

One book I am looking forward to reading is Michael Pollan's newest, In Defense of Food; An Eater's Manifesto, currently in stores. The Omnivore's Dilemma, which he authored and I actually had to read for a class, was one of those life-changing books. He writes clearly, humorously and manages to make subjects like corn (the basis of The Omnivore's Dilemma) fascinating. If you haven't read it, do so. It may change the way you decide what to eat.

As for me I'm currently enjoying, Loving Frank, an excellent novel about Frank Lloyd Wright (with one son an architect, I need to be able to converse with him....) to be followed by A Three Dog Life by Abigail Adams, a master in the world of literary nonfiction.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Continuing Education

Elizabeth Lawrence was a remarkable woman. She was presumed to be the world's first anthropologist/veterinarian and she pioneered the field of human-animal interaction. In fact, she taught one of the first courses on the subject to veterinary students at Tufts University Vet School.

I know all about Lawrence because I was hired by her husband to write a book about her life after she died in her sixties of cancer. He wanted to document her accomplishments and I spent a good deal of time with Reverend Lawrence at their home in Westport, Rhode Island. There, he showed me with pride, the two story library the couple built on their farm to house Betty's vast collection of books and all her writings. "Most couples dream of a condo in Florida," he laughed. "Betty wanted a library."

I tell you all of this about Betty Lawrence because, to my delight, Tufts University has made the contents of the course that is still being taught at Tufts Vet School (in her memory) available on line. There is a syllabus as well as lecture texts for download or perusal at your leisure, and while I have not yet done so, I plan to study the contents. If you interested in the bond between humans and animals, I guarantee that you will find the contents fascinating.

There are, by the way, other university courses, available for download at this online database. If you are interested in broadening your horizons, this might be a good place to start.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy Birthday Nicanor!

Today, January 1, is the official birthday for all thoroughbred race horses, regardless of when their actual birthdays are. So if Barbaro, who was born April 29, was alive, today he would officially turn five. His two brothers, Nicanor and the as yet unnamed colt, are two and one respectively.

Nicanor is currently in training in Ocala, Florida with Jill and John Stephens, at their training center. They are the trainers who "broke" Barbaro--that is, they are the ones who first put a saddle and then a rider on his back. The typical pattern is that when a colt is about a year and a half old, they move to a training center where they "learn" how to be a race horse.

Nicanor has been with the Stephens since the late Fall. Reports are that he is learning the ropes nicely and appears to be as large as his brother was. It is still too early to know if he will be as successful on the track. At this stage, everyone is still learning.

One interesting technique that Jill Stephens uses is "line driving" the horses. She hitches up a type of rope harness to the horses in training and walks behind them for miles across open fields, getting them used to having their mouths pulled. The exercise looks a lot like the Amish farmers walking behind their horses as they plow the fields. The results are horses with soft and responsive mouths that hopefully eliminate the need for jockeys to go to their whips. Barbaro, Jill reports, had such a "soft" mouth.

Nicanor is two today and one step closer to making his debut on the track probably in the Fall. The legacy continues.....