Friday, February 29, 2008

What Are The Odds?

About a week or so ago, Dan Farley, former editor of the Thoroughbred Record posted a commentary on that caught my eye. He noted that six women were among the top 30 finishers in a recent million dollar handicapping contest in Las Vegas sponsored by the Thoroughbred Racing Association. According to Farley, of the approximately 278 people who participated in this event, 25 were women.

That sounds about right to me and that is the point of Farley's piece: that thoroughbred racing, a sport that should be bending over backwards to include anyone and everyone, is doing little to appeal to women. He goes on to mention the stereotypical "smoke-filled" betting parlors that unfortunately still exist and how "no self-respecting woman would be caught dead in many of these places."

All of which is so ironic when you consider the appeal that horses have always held for the female sex. What little girl didn't want a pony? And how many of those little girls grow up to be show riders, perhaps exercise riders, hot-walkers and even jockeys. I don't have any figures on this but I would say that even on the backside of a race track, where females are hardly invisible, they are still a minority. Yet consider that the incoming veterinary school class at the University of Pennsylvania is at least 75% female.

I don't think it is the gambling or the "Guys and Dolls" stigma that turns women away from racing. I have been to the races in Ireland where the racing meet is the highlight of the social season for men and women from all walks of life. It is a fashion show every night, regardless of the weather, and everyone bets, drinks, eats and has a wonderful time. Of course, this is Europe where horses and jockey are treated like national heroes. In Japan, according to Farley, the track is the "in" place to be for men and women.

When I witness the affection that the Fans of Barbaro, predominantly female, displayed for the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, I know that horses continue to inspire women. It is when the sport does not respect the horse as the source of that inspiration that women lose interest.

Yes, I think, as Farley suggests, that racing could go farther than it has in making the sport attractive to women but it's not all about pretty paddocks or pink and green ladies rooms, although those things are nice. I think it has to do with honesty, integrity and doing the right thing for the right reason because it is the right thing to do.

Gee, kind of like Gretchen Jackson? If thoroughbred racing is serious about attracting women, they are overlooking their chief ambassador.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Americans Against Horse Slaughter

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, the Americans Against Horse Slaughter group, some 74 strong at this point, are going to Washington D. C. to lobby for the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, House Resolution 503, Senate 311. I am going to be covering this grass roots political movement as part of my research for the book and I am looking forward to meeting some of the organizers of the event with whom I have been corresponding.

From what I have discerned, this is a formidable group exercising their political muscles in strategic fashion. They will not stop until the bills have passed and horses are no longer transported to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada, which is where they are being taken now that the ones in the United States have been shut down. "It is urgent that we get the federal legislation enacted into law," said Julie Caramante, one of the event's organizers. "Every week Congress delays, a thousand more horses face this horrible fate in Mexico and Canada."

This legislation, which I dub the "Barbaro Bill" in the book, is similar to the one that was almost passed in 2006, when the House voted for passage by a wide bipartisan margin of 263-146. This was during the time that Barbaro was at New Bolton Center and Gretchen went to Washington to lobby for its passage. Unfortunately, the session ended without a Senate vote and the bill had to start all over again.

The 110th Congress voted unanimously to let the bill out of committee in the Senate but it is currently being blocked by Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, the very same Larry Craig who was caught with his pants down in an airport restroom.

The strategy for the Lobby Days in Washington is focused, organized and an example of what happens when thoughtful, committed people realize they can indeed make a difference. I will be covering this event as a journalist--which means an an observer, not an advocate--but if you are interested in learning more about this legislation, I urge you to visit Alex Brown's website which will be hosting a chat this evening at 7:00 PM EST to answer any questions you might have.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quite a Tip

Yesterday's New York Times carried the story about a 71 year old widowed waitress, A. D. Carrol, from Texas, who got a little more than the customary 15% from one of her regular customers at the steak house where she works. "He just looked up at me and said, 'You're a good ol'gal,'" she recalled. "'You want a horse?' I thought he was kidding."

Well he wasn't. On Sunday, Carrol met her retired thoroughbred race horse named Mailman Express who was living at her benefactor's horse farm northwest of Houston. She was not disappointed. The 5-year old bay gelding was, in Carrol's words, "gorgeous" and it's safe to say she was instantly smitten.

No stranger to horses or their care, Carrol already owns two and works two jobs to pay for their room and board. She is thinking of donating Mailman to the stable where she boards her other horses "if they let us ride it free."

As for her benefactor, Carrol would say little other than he is a regular customer and on the day he offered her the horse, he only ordered two cups of coffee. He came back two days later to confirm that she still wanted it. According to the Times, "He jokingly asked for a dollar...but she hung tough, proposing instead that he pay her a dollar to take it. They settled on a no-cash deal."

On many levels, the gift horse is rescuing Carroll from a string of bad luck. In 1963, her husband was in a car accident that killed her six year old son. Her husband subsequently died in 1983 of a heart attack and another one of their sons was murdered in his Houston office by a robber.

For some reason, Carrol's benefactor knew that Mailman needed to be Carrol's special delivery and chances are that he has found him the perfect home. The rewards of rescuing any animal are immense and if your heart and your pocketbook are large enough, my advice is never to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Strange But True

Apparently I am not the only one to make a mistake when it comes to the appearance of Barbaro's brothers. In an earlier post (February 10), careful readers wondered about my reference to the resemblance of Lentenor to his father. While I do think he bears the carriage of Dynaformer (some breeding experts think that it is a sign of a good stallion to "stamp" his offspring with recognizable traits), what I truly meant to say was that the resemblance between Barbaro and Lentenor is especially striking, even to Gretchen Jackson.

It's good to know I am not alone. On February 23, the editors of the Rocky Mountain News printed a list of the errors they published unknowingly in 2007, with corrections. Under the caption, "But they look like twins" is the following admission: "We meant to run a photo of the late Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro but instead ran a photo of Barbaro's full brother, [at the time] a yet-to-be-named yearling."

This error came among those the paper admitted were "strange, funny and embarrassing," and as printing errors go, it probably was a difficult one to catch. Personally, I found their admission that they referred to Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony as "Caramel" Anthony, funny and the fact that they mis-identified Noah Webster, who published the nation's first dictionary in 1828 as American statesman orator Daniel Webster, embarrassing.

But substituting the photo of Lentenor for Barbaro, especially in light of all the similarities Gretchen noted between the two horses, that I find both strange and comforting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hoist the Flag, continued

When we last left Hoist the Flag, he was still sedated having had his right rear leg rebuilt with a bone graft that was stabilized with screws and plates, a technique developed by surgeons in Switzerland for humans. Veterinarians Jacques Jenny and William Reed fashioned the first fiberglass cast ever to be wrapped around a horse's leg and waited for the grandson of War Admiral to wake up.

When he did, Hoist the Flag righted himself and stood, apparently without much discomfort. He was able to walk and distributed his weight evenly on all four legs. Hoist the Flag not only survived the ground-breaking surgery (which should sound incredibly familiar to those who followed Barbaro's case), he went on to become an exceptional sire. In a twist of irony, Reed would apply similar compression techniques fifteen years later to one of Hoist the Flag's granddaughters, Personal Ensign, who shattered the long pastern bone on her left leg during a workout. Personal Ensign not only recovered but returned to the track, remaining undefeated in her twelve remaining twelve starts.

And what of Dr. Jacques Jenny, considered by many to be the founding father of equine orthopedic surgery? He became the chief of Surgery at Penn's New Bolton Center, where he developed the swimming pool-based system of recovery for horses waking up from sedation. The concept, inspired in part by Ruffian's tragic demise when she shattered her repaired leg violently when waking from anesthesia, is where Barbaro woke up following all of his surgeries at New Bolton.

Those who criticize the Jacksons for trying to save Barbaro's life when the prognosis seemed so grim may not know the cardinal rule of medicine: you never know what might happen. And just look at how that surgery has already pushed the envelope even further.....

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Standing on the Shoulders of Others

A new exhibit devoted to advances in the veterinary care of racehorses is scheduled to open July 20 at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga, New York. According to the Museum's new curator Beth Sheffer, the exhibit is slated to run for two summers in the Museum's McBean gallery.

The exhibit will focus on veterinary care that great racehorses receive. These include Secretariat, who developed laminitis in the late 1980s, Ruffian, who broke her leg during the famous match race in 1975 against Foolish Pleasure, and of course, Barbaro.

I am delighted that the exhibit will highlight the advances in veterinary care that have been achieved over time and I only hope that enough recognition is given to the owners of horses, not all of them Triple Crown winners or even thoroughbreds, who are instrumental in attaining these advances. Just as human medical knowledge is built on trial, error and experience, so is veterinary medicine and it is precisely because owners are willing to push the envelope, that new techniques are discovered.

A case in point is the story of Hoist the Flag, a magnificent New-York based grandson of War Admiral who, in 1971, seemed to be poised to replicate his grandfather's legacy and win the Triple Crown. His workouts at Belmont were blistering. And then, on March 31, during his routine morning exercise, Hoist the Flag took a misstep and shattered his right hind leg. The prognosis was grim: a fractured and dislocated canon bone and a shattered long pastern bone. His veterinarians recommended euthanasia.

In a last ditch effort to try and save the colt's life, veterinarians Jacques Jenny and William Reed (the same one who would try unsuccessfully to save Ruffian's life several years later), decided to try the techniques that had been so successful in treating human fractures in Switzerland. The innovative concept of repair was based on compression, in which bones were reconstructed and then stabilized with screws and plates. It was untried in 1100 pound horses who could not support themselves on three legs.

Jenny and Reed put Hoist the Flag's canon bone back together with a metal plate and secured it with screws. The pieces of the shattered long pastern bone were too small to be bolted together so the vets wove the largest shards together with wire and then grafted bone from elsewhere in the animal onto the fracture. They wrapped the leg in a cast--the first time fiberglass was used to fashion a cast for a horse--and then they waited.

Tomorrow I'll tell you what happened when Hoist the Flag woke up.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

These Boots Were Made for Walking

Amos is dressed to combat the salt that our township crews spray very liberally all over our roads--which is great for drivers but burns the soles of dogs' feet. He actually likes his boots--except when it is too slippery! Yesterday he started off in his boots and about halfway through our walk started to nibble them off. So I pulled them off and he made it home perfectly!

Phoebe, on the other hand, HATES her boots --so no picture of her. She pulls them off before we even leave the house.

I am totally dependent on my YAK-TRAKS, which I put on the bottom of my boots. You try being pulled by almost 200 pounds of dog power on the ice!!! Yak-Traks have been my salvation. I keep one pair in the car and one old pair attached to my snow boots. They are a little tricky indoors on slippery tile and can catch on carpet but once you get the hang of it, you will never be without.

Happy trails and tails!

Friday, February 22, 2008



The official measurement at 9:30 AM on our back terrace was 4 inches. Enough to qualify for a bone fide romp!

More later with a report from the trenches.....literally!

Stay warm!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Page Turners

For the last three days the Philadelphia Inquirer has excerpted local mystery writer Lisa Scottoline's new book, Lady Killer. With great fanfare, the banner across the top of the front page promises us the first three chapters of the legal thriller and in the middle of each episode, there is a box listing Scottoline's local book-signing appearances.

Now I like Lisa Scottoline. I interviewed her before she made it big for our local paper and she was funny, gracious and very down to earth. I have seen her subsequently at benefits for the Free Library and she is equally unaffected, although a bit more glamorous. She lives on a horse farm in Chester County and has a bevy of animals, large and small. She has very loyal fans and an active web presence. And she has always been very willing to share her work for free in the hope that you will come back for more.

It is an interesting trend in the publishing industry that started with the frenzy over Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" feature that actually lets you read some of the book on line before you buy it. The premise is that you are able to do that in a bricks and mortar book store, so why not on line.

As you might imagine, not all publishers are behind the give-it-away-for-free trend, but I, for one, agree with Scottoline on this one. Certainly her sales have not been hurt by her tendency to tease us with excerpts. Of course the technique works incredibly well for her page-turning mysteries where you presumably want to know how it ends.

Some authors go a step further and actually post chapters of their works in progress on their web sites and invite feedback. There are even some publishing gurus who envision the book of the future to be a continual work in progress, where readers write their own endings on interactive reading machines and email them to their friends.

That worries me. I'm not sure I want anybody tampering with my carefully thought out sentence structure and word choice, but I'm willing to share bits and pieces up front in the hopes that you will come back for more.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

In honor of the "Canis Major" exhibition currently being staged at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, I thought you might like to see Phoebe Feldman, a la Warhol. I think Warhol would have approved because, as the show depicts, he was quite the animal lover.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Warhol wrote, "I never met a pet I didn't like" and those that knew him vouch for the collection of cats and dogs he amassed over his lifetime. The most visible pets were his dachshunds, Amos and Archie (love that name choice!) who accompanied him everywhere. There is a photo in the show from High Times magazine that depicts Warhol and Truman Capote, with Archie tucked under his arm.

Of course there is the famous Warhol cow wallpaper and numerous representations of beasts including horses, parrots, dogs and fish in his signature hues of turquoise, orange and shocking pink. Greeting visitors at the entrance to the show is Cecil, a huge stuffed Great Dane, that apparently once stood guard at the entrance to his Silver Factory in New York City between 1969-87.

Although Warhol originally believed the dog was owned by Cecil B. DeMille (hence his name), according to canine photographer and genealogist Kerrin Winter-Churchill, the dog was actually named Ador Tipp Topp and among his many show ring accolades was the Best in Show title at Westminster Kennel Club Show sometime in the 1920s. After his death, Ador was mounted by a taxidermist who included him in a dog hall of fame at Yale University's Peabody Museum. In 1964, a Yale Drama student bought a dozen of these dogs for $10 and later sold the Great Dane to an antiques dealer who later sold him to Warhol, complete with a fake "pedigree."

No doubt, Ador Tipp Topp is enjoying the last laugh, having achieved more than his predicted "15 minutes of fame." As for Phoebe, well she is always ready for her close-up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Common Cents

I have written before about the great work that The Kentucky Equine Humane Center is doing rescuing and adopting out over 60 horses, mules and donkeys in its first nine months of operation. Yesterday I received an email from Staci Hancock, one of its founders, about a simple way in which you can help them continue to do such good deeds.

It's free, it's easy and it is something you probably do every day anyway.

What if The Kentucky Equine Humane Center earned a penny every time you searched the internet? Well, thanks to, a new Yahoo-powered search engine that donates half its advertising revenue (about a penny per search) to the charities its users designate, you can.

The premise is simple. You go to, enter The Kentucky Equine Humane Center as the charity you want to support and then surf away. Since the browser is powered by Yahoo, it is quick, easy and reliable. There is also a new feature,, a new online shopping mall which donates up to thirty seven percent of each purchase to your favorite cause. If you are going to shop online at places like Amazon, Target, Zappos, even ebay, why not let The Kentucky Equine Humane Center benefit from your purchases?

Pennies may not seem like much, but they do add up. According to Oprah Magazine, if 1,000 people with the same charity search twice a day for a year, the charity earns $7300!! More than 54,000 charities and schools are now participating in GoodSearch and more than 100 new groups are joining every day. According to the website, the ASPCA has earned $12,200!

This is the real deal. There are clippings on the website from articles in nearly every major newspaper, including The New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

The key is spreading the word. So log on, sign up and tell your friends.

Staci and the horses at The Kentucky Equine Humane Center thank you for supporting their work in sustaining and promoting equine welfare.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Coconut Story

I promised that this wouldn't be a political blog, but I read a story yesterday about Chelsea Clinton that begs for a response, at least in my opinion.

It seems that Chelsea was stumping for her mom in Maine at Colby College where she told the coconut story. As the New York Times reported, Chelsea reminisced about the time she was about six years old and living in the governor's mansion in Arkansas. She wanted a coconut. Her parents obliged and the family was soon confronted by the classic coconut dilemma: How do you open it?

Chelsea reports that she and her father went out in the driveway and tried slamming the coconut against the asphalt. They hurled it at a few stone walls. Nothing worked. And then her mother appeared with a hammer. The moral of the story: Hilary is good at solving problems, (read that world-problems) which, of course, is why you should vote for her.

First of all, the entire "Vote for my mother," appeal bothers me and I'm not sure why. I know that political children routinely stump for their parents and the concept never bothered me before. Maybe because this one sounds like pleading...Maybe because even Chelsea is part of such a well-oiled machine...Maybe because she actually might have more influence (star power?) than the average child of a candidate...Maybe because my daughter (an avid watcher of The View) reports that Chelsea called both Joy Behar and Barbara Walters to personally ask them to vote for her mother (and then naturally report it on the air)...Maybe because it seems so well rehearsed.

Anyway, the thing that bothers me most, is that it doesn't take a "world-problem" solver to open a coconut. It just takes common sense and perhaps experience with having opened them before. I'm willing to bet that lots of mothers and fathers have come up with the solution and that doesn't necessarily make them qualified to be president. It just makes them parents, willing to do anything for their kids.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pet Expo

Anyone who doubts that pets are big business need go no further than the front door of the PET EXPO being held in my neck of the woods this weekend. All in the name of research, my daughter and I attended this cross between an indoor dog park, shopping mall and country fair.

Yes, you could bring your pet as this lady obviously did and then purchase everything under the sun (and moon) for your precious and pampered pets.

The highlight for us, however, was the Air Dog demonstration. A mobile swimming pool, ramp and diving platform were the props for a slew of diving dogs--everything from retrievers to a jack russell--fetching toys mid-air and then landing in a pool of water. There was lots of tail wagging and lots of applause. Everyone seemed to love it, even those spectators who got splashed!

Dog toys were everywhere (Phoebe and Amos got a few new ones although they did not attend) and doggie treats were abundant, many displayed, nose-high (which is why Phoebe and Amos did not attend...).

A nice way to pass a winter the company of pet people.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Game On

I admit that I'm a sucker for some reality television shows--the ones in which the winners have to prove their abilities by competing a series of clever and usually difficult challenges against very qualified opponents. I'm thinking here of American Idol, Project Runway and Top Chef. The winners of these contests are talented and creative. They are pushed to the limit and they respond. Their rewards? A shot at the big time--a foot in the door of industries that are notoriously hostile to newcomers.

The competitors are the first to admit the savage natures of the very industries they wish to join. One American Idol contestant last week bemoaned her treatment by the music industry. She wasn't sure she had the stomach to sign up for more morale bashing. Just listen to the judging on Project Runway--it is as brutal as the fashion industry underneath the glamour they project. And the restaurant business is literally cut throat--pun intended.

And yet they keep coming...these want-to-bes who genuinely have talent and can't get a break, many after years of trying to work their way up the totem poles of their professions. They pay their dues; they demonstrate their talent and yet there is still that need to be in the right place at the right time and to suck it up, big time.

Of course, every industry, notably publishing, has this element of luck, timing, talent and incredibly hard work. Getting published the traditional way has all the elements of American Idol without the spotlight. You respond to challenges; you complete assignments on time; you push the envelope and you face the judges--most of whom are nameless and faceless and simply say, "It's not for me." "I just didn't feel it," Randy says frequently on American Idol. "It didn't do anything for me."

Do we need a reality show, The Great American Novel, to push open the doors to the Random Houses of the world? It's hard to make a verbal medium visual so I'm pretty sure it wouldn't fly. And we have all these dire statistics about the dearth of reading in America to begin with, so who would care about a show in which people actually create things that require thought, effort and actual participation (other than voting) on the part of the audience?

In a way, its a shame. The traditional publishing world is dying a slow death because they are making it harder and harder for anyone new to get in. It seems to me that if people are pounding on your door, the least you could do is open it a crack, show us how it really works, make yourself feel even more important in the process and give away a few keys.

If its all a game, then let us all try out before you make the cuts.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Equine Welfare Resources

On Wednesday, the Homes for Horses Coalition launched their website, a wonderful resource tool for those interested in the welfare of horses. Although I haven't studied it from top to bottom, the site seems to provide a wealth of information on a broad range of topics--from how to operate a horse rescue facility to lots of background information on the horse slaughter debate.

The site further lists all organizations that comply with the equine welfare standards approved by the Homes For Horses Coalition, including the Animal Welfare Institute and the Humane Society of the United States.

This group has a great deal of experience and information regarding equine welfare and is eager to provide it to those just testing the waters. "Our cumulative expertise puts The Homes for Horses Coalition in a unique position to advocate for equines from a perspective that puts equine welfare above commercial interests," said Keith Danes, director of equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States, in a press release announcing the new site.

If you are looking for background information on the horse slaughter bills that are floating around Congress, this is a good place to start. If you are moved to act, Americans Against Horse Slaughter are lobbying in Washington on March 4 and 5.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love is in the Air

Happy Valentines Day from two of the biggest hearts I know.

Phoebe is a bit miffed at not getting equal press so she presides and Amos, you have met. Please note they are sporting their Valentine's Day bandanas (Amos is not quite sure if pink is his color) and they are sending you their love as they do every single day to everyone they meet.





In fact, the American Association of Human-Animal Bond veterinarians says, "the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals." There's actually real evidence to suggest that animals are good for your health--including your heart.

So enjoy mine and share the love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pet Policies Redux

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a blogosphere to author a blog. Thanks to a faithful reader, I stand corrected on my post about equine insurance. As she writes, "You can in fact obtain health coverage for horses though it is slightly different than VPI's [Veterinary Pet Insurance] coverage."

This reader does indeed have health coverage for her "average" horses, although there are some limitations. "If you submit a claim for an illness in one year on the subsequent year's policy that ailment will be written off as an exclusion for the most part," she writes. In addition, in her experience, after a certain age, her equine policy will not be re-issued or substantially limited.

A simple Google search of equine insurance, on my part, resulted in 229,000 hits. Most included surgical, medical, mortality, loss of use , general liability and even infertility options. Some are tied in with general farm insurance but the point is that there are lots of options out there, which indicates to me, that there are probably a fair amount of takers.

In fact, it may be that the growing pet insurance industry is simply taking its cue from what seems to be a long-standing equine insurance business.

The simple truth remains. Animals get sick and injured. We as their owners must determine how much that is "worth" to us, in monetary and psychological terms. And it is when the perceived "value" of our animals exceeds their actual "worth" that the picture, in my opinion, becomes fascinating. How can you put a price tag on love?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pet Policies

It seems the pet insurance war is heating up. The New York Times ran an article on Sunday about a new insurance sales agent: one that specializes in pet insurance! According to the paper, "The specialty is small: there are less than 600,000 insured pets," and there are fewer than 500 agents that sell pet insurance. But, according to John Volk, a consultant for the industry, it is a projected area of growth.

As many of you know, I have pet insurance for my two dogs. Too many trips to Penn's emergency veterinary service, (including one where they wouldn't call a surgeon until I wrote a check for $1200 on the spot) taught me the psychological benefits of shelling out about $300 a year per pet to know I would get back some of my expenses for extraordinary and unexpected procedures. I registered for it on-line and at the time there was only one company offering policies: VPI in Brea, California.

Now competitors include Trupanion in Seattle, Petplan, USA and Nestle Purina which is currently offering insurance in Canada with plans to expand to the US this spring. And while the concept of pet insurance for companion animals is fairly new, the practice of purchasing insurance for horses has been around for a while. One of my brothers, for example, was until recently, in the equine insurance business.

As I understand it, policies for thoroughbreds are usually placed with big name insurance companies, Chubb for instance handles quite a few. As the horse increases in value so does its insurance and there are always opportunities to up the ante. These are essentially life insurance policies that insure against acts of nature (fire, hurricanes, floods) and catastrophic injury. They are not, to my knowledge, health insurance policies which is where they differ from those being offered for companion animals.

And you can be sure there are lots of rules that govern when equine insurance policies can be redeemed just as there are many horror stories of owners trying to collect claims.

The bottom line seems to be that as veterinary medicine continues to push its boundaries and provide services to animals that rival those offered by human medicine, many consumers are willing to pay the price. Will it be long before horses are considered companion animals? An interesting question and one that these growing industries might banking on.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Speaking the Language

In honor of the Westminster Dog Show in New York City today and tomorrow, yesterday's New York Times ran a story about the owners of Vivi, the whippet who escaped from her crate at Kennedy airport in 2006 while waiting for her return flight to Los Angeles, and hasn't been seen since. Vivi's owners are making their first trip back to New York to compete in the dog show since their prize winning whippet disappeared.

I remember the incident. Would-be rescuers set up "camp" near the airport and canvassed the area, going door to door to try and find the elusive dog. They gave up after 8 days of searching.

Of course, just because Vivi could not be found by her owners does not mean that she is not alive, well and living elsewhere. At least that is what animal communicator, Judi Byers, has told the New York Times. According to Byers, Vivi is alive and living on her own, having found reliable places to eat and sleep. "She doesn't want to be a show dog anymore," Becker reported. "She just wants to be a companion now."

Animal communicators are a fascinating breed. Some claim to be able to pick up an animal's signals via the airwaves regardless of ever having "known" the animal. Others communicate with the animal in question in person, relaying their inner thoughts. When my parents lost their beloved shar pei, they turned to an animal communicator who told them that she too was alive and well and living somewhere near chickens. My mother scoured the Maryland countryside looking for her to no avail. They ultimately discovered her body when the ice melted on their pond. She clearly had fallen through the ice. There were no chickens anywhere in the vicinity.

Gretchen also has heard from numerous animal communicators throughout Barbaro's career, recuperation and death. All of them mean well and most report Barbaro is happy where he is now and that his work here is not done (interpret how you will).

Personally I do believe that animals communicate with us but I think they do so in person. If you know and love an animal, you do know what they are telling you and you certainly know if they are happy, healthy or in pain and suffering. I do not think that these vibrations can be sensed by anybody through the airwaves, especially someone who has never known the animal in question.

I would hold out more hope for a communicator who held his/her sessions in person than via the telephone. In fact, there is an animal communicator on site in the Pennsylvania Hotel, where the majority of the contestants for the Westminster Dog Show stay with their owners. Even "mediums" who help the police find missing children usually need a piece of clothing or personal item that belonged to the child to harness their vibes.

So listen to your animals yourself and chances are you will be able to understand exactly what they are trying to tell you.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Family Resemblance

If you ever get to read my book, you will learn about a remarkable encounter with Gretchen Jackson and Barbaro's youngest brother, now named Lentenor. It was shortly after he was born and Gretchen went down to Lexington, Kentucky visit the foal at Mill Ridge Farm.

She told the story to a group of alumni who were assembled at Chestnut Hill College outside of Philadelphia to hear her and Pat Chapman speak about their relationship with horses. It was a wonderful presentation--one that I told both of them they should consider taking on the road.

In any event, Pat Chapman had asked Gretchen how the foal was. And Gretchen described her visit in which she climbed into the paddock and the foal came right over to her. "I thought that was unusual," she said. "Foals rarely leave their mothers." And then the young Lentenor stood perfectly still and submitted to Gretchen running her hands over his entire body, getting a literal feel for his conformation. "That too was odd," she thought. "Foals never stand still."

Then Gretchen stepped back to give the foal a once over from a distance. He turned a looked at her and then he nickered. "That," she told the audience, "was truly amazing. Foals never talk to anyone except their mothers."

I thought of all these things when I saw the recent photos of Lentenor posted by Mill Ridge. Look closely at the close-up--the "radish-like" marking, the knowing eyes. Do you see an uncanny resemblance to his big brother?

Pat Chapman said it best: "Let me know when he makes his first start. I'd like to place a bet on him."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

As the Blog Turns

It's funny how things turn out. This blog, which began as an exercise in audience (read credibility) building for my might-never-be-published book, has become a window into the world of electronic connectibility--social networking, as some people call it. And it has been an interesting journey, to date.

Blogs are a great warm up exercise for brain cells--gets them moving sometimes in different ways. And sometimes they turn into other things.

Like the story about the woman who decided to try every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook and document her experience on her blog. It became a cult hit and publishers were beating down her door and she wrote a book that became a big seller.

Not that I think this blog is going anywhere so fast but it is fun for me and I hope for you. I'm not losing focus but I am trying to expand my vision.

In the meantime, I am giving you fair warning that you never know where we are going...

Friday, February 8, 2008

Other Inspirational Animals

I recently read about a woman from Seattle who heads something called the Goat Justice League, a group of about 100 goat owners. They were successful in changing their city's law to make it legal to keep goats as pets. There are restrictions, of course (male goats must be neutered and not permitted anywhere outside the owner's yard with the exception of being able to be loaned out to other goat owners), but the point here is that this woman spearheaded an effort to change society based on her experiences with her pet goat.

It turns out that goats are being touted as "anther link to the reality of where food comes from." They provide hormone free milk and are the ultimate "green" lawnmowers. In short, everyone seems to be gaining from the law change. Even nearby Portland and Everett have passed similar legislation and one council member was even heard to mutter about the feasibility of sheep and llamas as models of "urban sustainability."

Certainly Barbaro inspired similar changes in racing: greater attention to horse retirement and rescue issues, the passionate anti-slaughter lobby and tracks adopting artificial racing surfaces which are believed to be safer than dirt for horses and riders.

So do you know of any other animals who have inspired any humans in similar ways, big or small? I'm looking for animals that inspire people to act--not just to "be" different or more aware, but to actually "do" something with their new found knowledge that resulted from their relationship with the animal.

I'm a great believer in putting my request "out there" into the universe. When I was writing collection stories for our local newspaper, one collector frequently led to the next. So if you are an animal lover who knows of someone doing something interesting because of their animals, let me know.

As they say, you never know....

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Deceptively Simple....

Sometimes I have a way of thinking too much--of making things much more complicated or over ambitious than they need to be. My Barbaro proposal may be one example of such behavior. In trying to tell the whole story--which has already been told ad nauseum--I am not really bringing anything new to the table. Authorized means nothing to the reader who has already read it all.

So perhaps the answer is to zero in on one aspect--a closeup, if you will, of something that has not been said or something that epitomizes the entire fable. Because in the end, the Barbaro story has become just that--a myth that has entered our collective frame of consciousness enough to become symbolic for heroic effort, grace under pressure and inspiration.

It is no mystery that Barbaro has inspired people to do amazing things--heal from injuries, cope with chronic illness, become veterinarians, rescue horses, change careers....the list seems to be endless. I write about people so I have decided to focus on the people who have been inspired by Barbaro to do something they might not have done without following his story. I ask you to complete the phrase, Something about Barbaro inspired me to..........

What would you fill in? And while you're at it, have any other animals inspired you in similar ways?

I want to hear your story. Email me or leave me a comment. I'm truly looking forward to hearing from you and excited about what you might tell me.

Not all heroes walk on two feet. Tell my why Barbaro was yours.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Nothing in Isolation

One of the prevailing theories about the Internet is that it breeds isolation among its users. In fact, cultural critic Lee Siegel has come out with a new book, Against The Machine, in which he decries the Internet as "the first social environment to serve the needs of the isolated, elevated, asocial individual." Sitting in front of the computer screen, according to John Lanchester, who reviewed Siegel's book in Sunday's New York Times Book Review, "once would have been called disconnectedness or atomization," and is now being hyped as "connectivity."

I actually took a class a few semesters back in Cultural Theory in which we read some of the research that debunks Siegel's theory. Part of that research has to do with something called fandom and the role of electronic medium in being a fan. Elizabeth Bird, for one, has written extensively about the group of fans that grew up around the old television show, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and how this on-line community came together in person to meet and share their common interest in the television show. And lo and behold, she discovered they were articulate, educated, thoughtful, creative people who shared a common interest in American history, especially women and Native Americans and the history of medicine. For them, this presumed isolationist medium was in fact, the glue that brought them all together.

Certainly one need look no farther than the Fans of Barbaro to see this concept played out even farther. In this case it was interest in Barbaro's health that initially drew together a group of diverse people to follow his medical progress. But what is especially interesting about these fans is that A) they have remained together long after the object of their initial attraction ceased to exist and B) they have moved from an on-line community to an actual grass roots political action movement, lobbying for social change with regard to horse protection legislation.

There probably are some cases in which the Internet does encourage isolationism, perhaps among those who were prone to be anti-social to begin with. But I also think there are many times when it has provided an electronic support group to people who truly were looking for company to share their interests and help them escape from their individual universes. I belong to a list-serv of freelance professionals that is a wonderful support group, both in terms of information and friendship and I follow the posts of an on-line group for people whose pets have cancer just to keep my finger on the pulse of a topic I was previously researching.

So Mr. Siegel may have a point but it is not the only point. There is no substitute for human connection and when the Internet replaces that, I do agree that it is destructive. But when it is used as a tool to foster connections among like-minded "fans," I think it is a powerful medium, capable of breeding lasting change. Like everything else, however, it is just one tool and should always be regarded as such.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Off to the Races

It's Super Tuesday and in honor of the primaries being waged from coast to coast, I pose the following question: Why are political contests often called horse races?

According to Bartholomew H. Sparrow (true name...) in his book, Uncertain Guardians: The News Media as a Political Institution, the "horse race" aspect of political campaigns is a focus on the race, rather than on the issues or the policies being touted by the candidates. According to an anonymous NBC news executive, this focus appeals to the viewers who only "want to know...who will win." Similarly, according to James Carville, this perspective appeals to the press because "What reporter wouldn't rather report on strategy than message?" So we have endless predictions, polls and newscasters as handicappers, "turf" on which they somehow feel comfortable and qualified.

All of which seems to imply that actual horse racing is all about winning, not about breeding, training, strategy and a healthy dose of luck. By calling political races "horse races" the media implies that these races are only about who runs well on a certain day in a certain place and that what they are running on or for means very little. To which I ask, then why spend months spouting policies and promises? Just show up on race day and let the best man or woman win.

The analogy is further ironic in that the coverage of actual horse races (think about the two hour preamble to the Kentucky Derby) tends to focus on the "up close and personal" aspect of the horse's connections, his past performances and all the variables that could affect his performance. So while the lingo of "neck and neck" and "into the homestretch" comes straight off the track, pundits may be doing the candidates a true disservice by calling their campaigns horse races simply because, in the end, someone does win.

After all what makes a horse race interesting is that nothing is predictable. A horse could get hurt, refuse to leave the starting gate or lose its rider. A long shot can win; a favorite can lose and theoretically anyone can win. Trust me, if we knew the magic formula, it would be no fun.

So call a political contest a horse race because anything can happen and very often it's exciting to see how the stretch duel plays out. Not because someone always goes to the winner's circle.

And don't forget to vote.

Monday, February 4, 2008

When Is the Time Right?

Yesterday's back page of The New York Times Book Review elucidated the glacial pace at which the publishing industry moves--not only in terms of submission review but also in terms of actual publishing. "Technology may be speeding up the news cycle, but in publishing things actually seem to be slowing down," writes Rachel Donadio. She is speaking about the "suspended animation" that occurs between submitting a manuscript and seeing the book appear in stores, but the lack of movement seems to apply to all aspects of the process.

According to Donadio, it all comes down to marketing, specifically the time honored practice of word of mouth, which, in the end is what publishers rely on to sell books. The publicity wheels start turning as soon as a literary agent sells a publisher a book, even before it is edited, or in the case of non-fiction, written. "While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display, for which publishers pay dearly." Mind you, this is very often before they even know what the book is going to say, how it is going to say it and whether or not it says it well.

Merit seems to have very little role in the process. Perhaps if it is deemed good enough to be bought, then it is deemed good enough to sell. But this also explains why the decisions about the "value" of manuscripts seem to end up in the hands of sales and marketing teams, not editors, who presumably judge the book on its story, not its sale-ability. Success breeds success in publishing, perhaps more so than in any other industry, yet ironically second and third books are often not as popular, sales wise as first ones. Still, few are willing to gamble on unknown, first time authors, without a following.

And when it comes to direct competition, the object of the game is to run in the other direction. "You never want to get in a horse race with another book on the same subject," says William Shinker, the president and publisher of Gotham.

I tell you this because there are lots of reasons why my proposal seems to be going nowhere, not the least of which is the nature of the industry itself. Timing seems to be important in a field where time, ironically, often seems to stand still. So does competition, of which there is a fair amount in the form of other books on Barbaro.

One would think that the authorized story would carry more merit than the non-authorized ones but apparently only in the hands of an already published author.

So the waiting game continues, not without incredible frustration, despondence and anger on my part. Remember I never asked for any of this and now find myself with too much invested to let it go lightly.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Lancaster is Home to More than Amish

After yesterday's self-indulgent post, I am happy to report that the new regime of medicine seems to be kicking in and I am slowly beginning to feel like a person again! In fact, I felt well enough to make the trek to Dickinson College yesterday afternoon to watch my daughter's basketball team (Haverford College) get clobbered by the leaders in their conference. In fact, it seems as if I have been spending a fair amount of time lately following this team west on the PA. turnpike to play their conference rivals.

Which is how I came to notice the billboards that dot the turnpike in the vicinity of Lancaster, Pa. reminding me that this picturesque countryside harbors some of the country's most notorious puppy mills. The conditions in these breeding operations are horrendous and Main Line Animal Rescue has posted these billboards to shed light on these inhumane practices. One of the billboards that I read yesterday reminded travelers that it was against the law for puppy farmers to spread their fields with the cremated remains of their "crops." The second showed a picture of a beagle stuck in a dishwasher, with type that explained that a beagle puppy raised in a puppy mill could spend all of his life in a crate no larger than a dishwasher. Need I say more?

Pennsylvania now breeds more dogs than any state on the East Coast and has indeed earned the dubious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of the East coast. Governor Rendell is trying to crack down on the practices but legitimate kennel owners (fox hound owners in particular) are apparently up in arms against some of the bills that they feel would make it too expensive for them to maintain their packs.

"There's either livestock or dead stock," is an aphorism that is related to this practice. Puppies raised in these inhumane conditions are seen as commodities, means to an end, and not worthy of all the "fuss" being paid to their existence. Its hard to make that argument in this era of "pets as people" and even harder to justify selling ill puppies to those who don't know better.

If you are in the market for a dog, rescue one or make sure you know where it comes from. Better yet, join the fight to end puppy mills and raise awareness of these barbaric practices.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tea and Sympathy

It's Ground Hog Day (six more weeks of winter, by the way according to the furry guy), and I feel like I am caught in the Bill Murray movie--you know the one in which every day is the same. I have been fighting this bug for ten days now, and I just wish it would go away. Every day feels remarkably like the one before--filled with coughs, scratchy throat, no voice and lackluster energy. Sorry to be a whiner--I hate to complain, but the time line of illness is absolutely suffocating in its repetition and oh so very boring.

Which actually brings me to the reading for the week in my class, all of which centered on the very theme of time in illness and how the perspectives differ from patient to practitioner. The well meaning doctor may recite the standard length of time it takes to recuperate from say, a broken arm ("You need to keep that arm immobile for six to eight weeks"), without realizing that he has prescribed an eternity to the poor kid who has to sit out basketball and perhaps, some of baseball season. To the doctor it is one appointment--when he next sees this patient, the cast will come off. To the patient, it sounds like a lifetime in exile from the activities that matter.

And while the doctor is right in telling the truth, perhaps it needs to be tempered just a little bit. "I know that seems like forever, but it really will happen," he might suggest. Or maybe not. Time is a tricky dimension in illness--when you are trapped it doesn't seem to change. When you are well; there doesn't seem to be enough of it.

All of which makes Barbaro's long convalescence even more impressive, from the point of view of those who care for and about him. His world might not have changed from day to day and while this may have been an endless source of frustration for Gretchen Jackson in particular, who hated to see him "cooped up in that stall," it was the classic no news is good news scenario. The more things stayed static, the better his chance for recovery. It was when things started to deteriorate--rapidly--that the walls came crashing down and all of a sudden those boring, cooped up days seemed awfully good.

I think I am getting better--a new regime of antibiotics is bound to help--and maybe when I do feel like my old self and get caught in the whirlwind of doing too much in too little time, I will miss these days of less activity. But right now, I can't help but wish that the calendar page would change.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.....

I had been planning on telling you about my lunch and conversation yesterday with Scott Hoffman, one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Agency, but unfortunately I was unable to attend the event. I have been fighting a nasty bug for over a week now, taking antibiotics since Monday, but as of yesterday morning I was actually feeling worse. I debated long and hard whether or not I should push myself, but it turned out that I was still waiting for the doctor to call me back at about the time that I would have had to leave to get to the event on time. So I opted out, which was unusual for me, but since I had virtually no voice and a wicked cough, probably a wise decision.

I am guessing that Hoffman went to Penn since the event was held on the campus at the Kelly Writer's House, a wonderful source for writers in the Philadelphia area. It was billed as conversations about the publishing industry and what made it even more intriguing was the fact that I actually had heard one of Hoffman's partner's, Paige Wheeler, speak at the writers conference I attended this fall. They started their agency as an alternative to what they saw was going on in the publishing industry (lack of attention to clients, lack of publicity on the part of the publishers for their authors) and I remember they had offices in both New York and Washington.

In the most perfect of worlds, I would have found the perfect time and place to question him about what was going on (or not going on) with my proposal and he might have said, send me a copy (hey, I can dream right?) and who knows... but none of this was going to happen with me not being at the top of my game and certainly would have less credibility coming from a croaking sneezer than from a polished professional.

So I stayed home. And am off to the doctor this morning where hopefully, she will prescribe something to get me back on my feet.