Friday, October 31, 2008

More pets in their Halloween finery!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween is coming and I have been saving these photos sent to me from a friend because they are some of the most creative and funniest pet costumes that I have seen. So you will get to see them for a few days because it is hard to pick just one!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.....

Perhaps you've heard "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" or are a fan of the television series of the same name, but, as those of you following the World Series already know, that is NOT the case. (Although, ironically October has been the driest month around here in a LONG time and all the landscape people were crying "drought...") Monday night's game, which many of us lifetime Philadelphia residents were hoping would end our city's 25 year drought of championship sports teams, is currently in a rain delay, tied at 2-2.

Nothing, as they say in Philadelphia, is easy. Especially winning.

I do not think they will be able to play the game Tuesday night (I am writing this Tuesday afternoon) and I think we may have to wait until Wednesday or perhaps Friday or Saturday to see the end of this Series. I hesitate at this point to think of what could happen--which is basically anything.

Baseball is a lot like horse racing. The baseball gods are as vengeful as the horse racing ones and perhaps our city's premature glee offended them. Perhaps we were not meant to taste victory so seemingly effortlessly. But truly, I thought we had paid our dues, as far as weather, on Saturday night when we actually stood around for two hours in pouring rain (though thankfully not COLD pouring rain) until the game started at the bizarre hour of 10:15 at night. Apparently not the case...

Humility, it seems, is critical. Maybe our thoughts of parades were too reminiscent of Dutrow's predictions for Big Brown. Maybe we were meant to keep our anticipation to ourselves, not document it endlessly on local television and radio stations, with interviews of every long suffering fan who could taste celebration. Maybe the better tactic would have been to pull a Michael Matz--to simply not look too far ahead, to take one game at a time, to compliment our competition, to silently hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.

Perhaps we blew it, though I think not. I think in this case Major League Baseball blew it, waiting until Tampa tied the game at 2-2 to suspend play so that no one would take the rap. And if the sport were not at the mercy of television, they could have played the game Monday afternoon, when it was decent weather. People would have still come. This is, after all, the World Series.

Here's what I hope happens: that the Phillies put it away rapidly once the game resumes so that no one, and I mean no one, second guesses their victory. Decisive, cut and dry, no room for excuses baseball that simply underscores the fact that they are the better team.

But this being Philadelphia, I hesitate to count on anything other than the fact that anything could happen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Old Rival Returns

I have written before about Alysheba, Bet Twice's nemesis, and winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness among other distinctions. Careful readers will remember that Bet Twice, our family's horse, thwarted Alysheba's Triple Crown effort by beating him in the Belmont.

Regardless of old rivalries, I am delighted to report that Alysheba, who has spent the last eight years at stud in the royal stables of His Royal Highness King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, will be spending his remaining years at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY in John Henry's former stall.

It's hard to believe that Alysheba is 24 (but he most certainly is because my daughter, who was born in 1987, is 21) and that he was still a productive stud (one can only assume he was because why else would the King have purchased him from Lane's End?) until this year. I am delighted that he will be returning home to his native "blue grass" to live out his years in dignity.

Every precaution is being taken to ensure that his trip overseas is a smooth one and his new stall will be kept warm and toasty until he acclimates to the colder climate. Bet Twice is no longer with us, having passed away some years ago after a not too productive career as a stud, so in a nice way, it is good to know that some of my memories of those "glory days" are still alive and kicking!

Here's my only beef. In the nice article from that celebrated his pending arrival, they noted Alysheba's accomplishments as follows: "Along the way, he defeated Risen Star, Forty Niner, Bet Twice, Seeking the Gold, and another ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand."

All of which is true. But Bet Twice also defeated him twice. Just giving you the complete picture!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Of Phillies and Fillies

What is it about championship sporting events that make them among the most memorable and exhausting moments of one's life? I think it is more than the proverbial thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Part of the allure is certainly the roller coaster of emotions but part, I think, is the opportunity to disengage with the "real world" for a few hours and live vicariously in the one where winning truly means everything.

Such was my Saturday. I watched most of the Breeder's Cup races on television as the skies darkened outside my window and a cold, steady downpour began to wash the colorful leaves off the trees. The races were all fabulous and the synthetic track held up well, seeming to favor the European horses who were used to running on heavier turf. But what was the rain going to do to the Phillies game for which we had coveted tickets that evening?

No matter. There were upsets, close finishes and tears of joy in the winner's circle. And more importantly, everyone came home in one piece--perhaps the most important victory of all.

We made the call in my house to leave for the ballpark around 6:00--game time was scheduled for 8:30. My boys wanted to "soak it all in" and how true that would prove to be! We hit traffic of course, but managed to arrive about five minutes before the skies opened. We wandered around the concourse, staying dry, searching for the perfect souvenir and something to eat and then we settled in for what we were sure was going to be a postponement.

We stood, (it was too wet to go anywhere near our seats) with 49,000 other crazy, red wearing Phillies fans, munching pretzels and looking at our watches. 8:00 turned to 8:30 to 9:00 to 9:25 and the rain kept coming. And then, at 9:25 a cheer went up as the grounds crew came out to remove the tarp--in perhaps one of the heaviest downpours of the night. Son #2 remained very doubtful that the field was playable.

But playable it was and so at 10:15 PM--my bedtime--we settled in to watch one of the greatest sporting events I have ever attended. To be honest, I had no idea what time it was until around 1:20 (about the 8th inning) when, with the score tied, the thought entered my mind that the Phillies might not win. And I could not fathom how they could do that to 49,000 plus people who stood in the rain for 1 1/2 hours and stayed awake until 1:30 in the morning! Seriously, the mood in the stadium was so upbeat until then--about 20 minutes from the end of the game, that it was the first time I felt a damper (no pun intended) on the night.

And that is when it hit me--how hard we fall for these teams or athletes or horses of ours that we lose all perception of reality--and how this escape--this few hours of intense disengagement from stock market crashes and job insecurities and mounting bills and health issues and psyche matters is so important to our national sanity, that it is almost worth the price of losing.

The Phillies pulled it out, of course, and if they hadn't I would have sobbed and cried and pulled myself back together because in the scheme of things, it really was just a game. But the fact of the matter is--and I bet anyone who took home a Breeder's Cup trophy over the weekend feels the same way--when you win, it is so much more than a game.

It is a gift. That you can unwrap again and again in your mind. And right now, I am savoring it.....

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Equal Opportunity?

Here's a news item that sent shivers down my spine...and it is not even Halloween.

According to ABC news, the Texas Wildlife Association has been sponsoring hunting outings for young girls in Texas and elsewhere with the intention of attracting more young women to the sport. These father and daughter outings in Texas are courtesy of the Texas Wildlife Association and on a recent one at Wildcat Mountain Ranch in Robert Lee, Texas, 9 year old Carolyn White shot her first deer.

"It's wonderful," says young Carolyn. "You feel like you can do anything and it is really cool."

Now I have NEVER been a proponent of guns in any one's hands other than law enforcement officers but I do understand that A) Texas is, in many ways, another country and B) hunting is a regulated sport and C) women can do anything men can do. What I do not understand, however, is letting 9 year old CHILDREN shoot living things ANYWHERE.

What is interesting about the premise behind these outings is the fact that according to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service there has been a decline in the number of hunters nationwide from 1991 to 2006. To which I can only say, hooray. But why then target young girls as the next generation of Annie Oakleys?

And here's how they're doing it: with pink camouflage clothing and pink rifles and fashion lines with names like Foxy Huntress. Puhleese...By making hunting a fashion statement, do you think you are eliminating the fact that the object is to KILL something, regardless of what you are wearing? Besides which, I thought that the idea behind camouflage gear was to actually camouflage you. How can that happen if you are wearing PINK??

I'm all for equal opportunity but not when it masquerades as a shopping opportunity. "We want to see children respect animals," notes Heidi Prescott of the Human Society. "We want to see them love animals and not go out in the woods and kill animals."

Need I say anything more?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elephant GPS

As the interface between humans and animals grows increasingly more transparent, not all encounters are peaceful. In Kenya, for example, bull elephants are known to ruin villagers crops (and thus their livelihoods) by raiding their harvests.

Now a new electronic collar equipped with a GPS is helping to protect both the crops and the almost-endangered bull elephants. Kenya's Save the Elephants Group equipped Kimani, one of the known crop raiding elephants, with such a collar and so far so good.

When Kimani decides to head for neighborhood farms, the SIM card in his collar sends rangers a text message about his location. They dispatch an armed guard and driver in a jeep loaded with spotlights to frighten the elephant back into the conservancy. Disaster averted.

So far, the rangers have intercepted Kimani about fifteen times since the project began about two years ago. He was once a nightly raider; he last went near a field about four months ago.

Needless to say, this system has been a huge relief to the farmers who used to drum through the night on pots and pans to frighten the elephants away. The program, however, is still in its infancy since only two virtual "geofences" have been established at Kenyan conservancies.

In addition, the batteries wear out after about a year and it is expensive both to replace the batteries and to respond to the messages they transmit. However, the general consensus is that the program has been an overall success. By controlling one marauding elephant, they are often able to control the rest, since, according to Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, "elephants, like teenagers, learn from one another."

Basila Mwasu, a mother of two who used to worry about her daughter's safety, now lets them play out doors. "We can live together," she comments. "Elephants have the right to live and we have the right to live too."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Phillie Phanatic!

HUGE sports weekend here in Philly. Our often maligned Phillies are in the WORLD SERIES--this does not happen very often around here--and Sons 1 & 2 are coming in for the event. We are among the fortunate who actually have two tickets for Sat. night, when it is supposed to rain.....

Add the Phillies Fever to Breeder's Cup excitement and this could be an armchair athlete's greatest hits. There are, of course, races on Friday when the Phillies have an off day, but to be honest, my heart and head are pretty wrapped up in baseball right now.

That said, there is indeed one horse I am squarely rooting for on Saturday: Dancing Forever in the Turf. Dancing Forever, is the offspring of Dancinginmy dreams, the horse that suffered pretty much the same injury that Barbaro did, but lived to procreate. Dancinginmydreams spent almost a year at New Bolton and did not succumb to the laminitis that did Barbaro in. Precedence alone for Dean Richardson to try to save Barbaro.

Anyway, what goes around comes around and I would love nothing more than for this baby to find the winner's circle in what surely would be a triumph of hope, medicine and luck. Here's hoping that all the horses in the Breeder's Cup two day event come home safely.

And if the Phils were to happen to take a game or two or three? Well, reason to paint the town red.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

From Across the Pond

It is always a good reality check to read what the foreign press has to say about all things American. Case in point is an excellent article by Marcus Townend that appeared in the British Daily Mail on line about the state of racing in the U.S., with specific emphasis on the Breeder's Cup.

Specifically, "When the action starts at Santa Anita on Friday, there is hope that it marks a new chapter in US racing."

It is no secret that the Brits think of U.S. racing as what Townend calls, "a drug-induced free-for-all where the stable vet is as crucial as the trainer," and find that the public outcry over the demise of Barbaro and Eight Belles is the primary reason that racing was forced to clean up its act. Townend feels that Barbaro's injury provoked the discussion about safer racing surfaces and Eight Belles' breakdown sparked the discussion about drugs.

Both of these topics are absolutely disgraceful to the Brits who favor racing on turf and prohibit the use of any drugs in the sport. Perhaps more upsetting to the writer was the "brazen attitude of some competitors" (namely Dutrow) who found themselves center stage even while the sport was "in the eye of a storm."

Here's hoping that Townend is right. That the drug-free Breeder's Cup on a synthetic surface will prove kinder and gentler not only to the horses who run but to the public who watches. And here's his inside scoop--don't overlook those European horses in your handicapping. They are used to running like this all the time.

"In finally attempting to clean up its act, U.S. racing ironically could find this year's glittering prizes even more vulnerable," he notes.

But I agree with his final conclusion. "It is a price worth paying."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Speak Softly But Carry A Big Title

Here's a novel idea. Literally.

Last Sunday at the Santa Monica Public Library borrowers were able to check out "living books" for half hour increments. Fourteen human "living books", representing such subjects as nudism, Buddhism, homelessness and vegetarianism were on hand to share their insights into their particular area of expertise with the patrons who checked them out.

The idea is courtesy of a group of young people in Copenhagen who created Living Libraries after one of their friends was stabbed during a night out. The concept was designed to educate people about different aspects of culture they might find frightening or intimidating.

"A personal conversation breaks down barriers and connects two strangers who might not otherwise have the opportunity to speak to each other," said Rachel Foyt, an administrative analyst at the Santa Monica Public Library.

No word yet on the success of the venture but living "volumes" were also available on feminism, the Oaxacan Americans, celebrity publicists, and foodism. I'm happy to report that the nudist was wearing clothes and that the expert on feminism did not plan on burning any bras.

Library officials did have a set of guidelines in place for the venture that included the following: "The reader must return the book in the same mental and physical condition as borrowed. It is forbidden to cause damage to the book, tear out or bend pages, get food or drink spilled over the book or hurt her or his dignity in any other way."

Oh, and all conversations had to take place outside in the courtyard so as to not disturb readers of traditional volumes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More of the Same

One thing you have to say about Alex Waldrop is that he knows how to play the game--the game, that is, of issuing reports, recommendations and creating alliances that make it look like his organization is staying one step ahead of the Congressional Committee investigating horse racing.

With regard to the newly created NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, the issue that is the most troublesome to me is the lack of internal leadership for this oversight committee. According to the NTRA press release, the Alliance is "comprised of the largest tracks and horsemen's groups in the U. S. and Canada" and "will be responsible for implementing the reforms." Maybe I'm being a little naive, but it seems to me that leaving everything in the multiple hands of the race track executives and horsemen's groups is exactly what got us where we are.

And as for leaving compliance with these initiatives to the watchful eye of Tommy Thompson, well see my previous post.

The initiatives are, in my opinion, a little superficial but nonetheless provide a good starting point. We have already seen that the ban on steroids from racing competition is less than comprehensive (New York still allows the use of four steroids in minimal doses) and it remains to be seen just what the "placement program for thoroughbreds no longer competing" really is and how it is funded. The Jockey Club has its own thoroughbred retirement facilities but to enlarge these to make them available to all thoroughbreds no longer competing will take some serious financial commitments from many organizations.

To be honest, I think the entire list of new initiatives is just a rehash of programs already in place somewhere in the racing world and there really is nothing new under the sun. What remains to be seen is how these initiatives are going to be held together and my guess is that without a general taking charge and responsibility, the buck is just going to continue to get passed at the expense of the horses.

Of course, I would like nothing more than for me to be proven wrong.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

So excuse me if I am not overly enthusiastic about the appointment of Tommy Thompson, former secretary of health and Human Services (can anyone say Katrina fiasco?) as independent counsel for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's newly created Safety and Integrity Alliance. Excuse me if I am also less than ecstatic over the Alliance itself, but that is fodder for another post.

For now, let's just concentrate on Thompson's credentials which made him the top choice for this post in which he will lead a team that will monitor the progress of the Alliance and issue an annual report on his findings.

According to the Wall Street Journal online, Thompson's experience with horse racing consists of his fractional ownership in a horse named Flashy Bull, which he got into because he "was at the Kentucky Derby one year as a spectator" and asked one of hosts, "How do you get involved in horse racing?" This curiosity resulted in what he refers to as owning "the tail" of Flashy Bull, who had some success on the track but ultimately broke a bone in his leg.

In addition to these stellar credentials, I repeat what Thompson himself told the WSJ about his qualifications: "I was the secretary of Health and Human Service and was there when 9/11 and all those other things had to be taken care of. I was responsible for the FDA. I was governor for 15 years. I'm a farmer. I had an interest in Flashy Bull. I've been passionate about horse racing. Plus, my law firm, Akin Gump, does this kind of work. We've done it for the NFL in the past and for all kinds of investigations into government."

As they say, truth is often stranger than fiction. Do these credentials sound at all like the "all boys club" appointments that politicians are so good at? Reminiscent at all of the "friend" one vice presidential candidate appointed to be secretary of Agriculture in her state because she liked cows? In line with the very Crony-esque way of doing business in our nation's capitol where appointments are often found to be based on connections rather than qualifications?

I pose these questions because, in my mind, Thompson is perhaps one of the least qualified individuals to fill this position and my guess is that the reports his firm produces will do nothing more than pay lip service to the NTRA's efforts at Safety and Integrity.

Just to underscore my reaction, I leave you with Thompson's answer to the WSJ's question about the role of Native Dancer's bloodline in propagating a weaker thoroughbred. "I haven't heard about Native Dancer," says our intrepid appointee. What about the fen-phen lawyers who invested in Curlin? "I've never heard of them." he continues.

Doesn't bode too well for objective, informed critiques from a knowledgeable source.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Close, but no Cigar....

Good news out of New York. State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman, John Sabini announced earlier this week that New York will ban all but four anabolic steroids in racing by January 1. The four permitted will only be allowed in minimal doses.

With the adoption of these rules, New York becomes the 17th state to adopt such rules and the rest of the racing states are expected to follow. "The goal is to get all 38 racing states to adopt this by January 1," said Jack Knowlton of Saratoga Springs, managing general partner of Sackatoga Stable. "There seems to be a real spirit of cooperation here."

The rules in New York apply to harness and thoroughbred tracks and the New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga Race Course, hopes to have the rules in place for its next meet. NYRA also operates Belmont and Aqueduct, where the ban will also be in effect.

The four steroids that will be permitted in minimal amounts are Winstrol, Equipose, Durabolin and testosterone. Winstrol, of course, was the drug that Rick Dutrow admitted he regularly administered to Big Brown. When Big Brown ran Winstrol-free in the Belmont, he did not finish the race.

It would have been ideal if New York had stepped up to the plate the way California has done and ban steroids all together, but something is better than nothing. I will be disappointed, however, if this partial ban becomes part of the NTRA's safety initiative, because I don't think that it is forceful enough. Yes, it will make a difference, but it won't make doping illegal. And I certainly don't think it is significant enough of a safety initiative on the part of the NTRA to answer to the public outcry over racing.

Perhaps harness driver-trainer John Stark, Jr, said it best when he admitted that he had already taken his young horses off steroids because he "knew the ban was coming." "It started with baseball," hes aid. "We knew it was going to come to our sport eventually."

Something that was inevitable does not, in my opinion, qualify for "new" initiative status.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Caveat Emptor

One of my neighbors has a new "designer" puppy named Remy. Remy is a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a shih tzu and is very cute and perky. I tell you this because Remy came from a pet store in New York City--a very spur of the moment decision by this neighbor and her daughter.

You are all well versed in the evils of purchasing a puppy from a pet store but so far Remy seems to be just fine. The Pennsylvania Attorney General, however, has come one step closer to shutting down one of the major suppliers of these pet stores, the Stolfuzes, who operate CC Pets L. L. C.

According to the Inquirer, the allegations against the Stolfuzes stem from false advertisement. They failed to identify their business in 884 ads both on internet sites and in at least four newspapers. In addition, the request to close the operation "alleges hundreds of violations of a three-year-old consumer-fraud settlement over the sale of sick puppies."

Libby Williams, founder of New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse, reports that she had "received at least 100 complaints from anguished families who bought what they thought were healthy puppies from the Stolfuzes." "They spent a few hundred dollars for a puppy; they never anticipated they'd have to spend thousands more trying to save the dog's life," says Williams.

Of course there is no way of knowing just where Remy came from--chances are she did come from a puppy mill but perhaps not from the one in question--and I hope he lives a long, healthy and happy life.

But please, caveat emptor, buyer beware and be informed. Not everyone is as lucky as Remy's owners.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Maryland Vote on Slots

On Nov. 4, Maryland residents will be voting on the referendum to add slot machines to their local racetracks.

There are two schools of thought on this issue. Those who fear that the Maryland racing industry is dying a slow death because horses are racing in nearby Pennsylvania and New Jersey where slot machines make for larger purses, and are therefore in favor of adding slot machines to the tracks, and those opposed to gambling in any shape or form in their "backyard."

I bring up the issue because there actually is a compromise that I had hoped would make this a less controversial subject. When I was in Washington last Spring with the Fans of Barbaro and the anti-slaughter groups, I met with two very savvy Maryland FOBs who had an ingenious plan for making everyone happy.

Their idea was to tie the issue of slot machines to horse retirement facilities.In other words, they were lobbying long and hard for the provision that would require race tracks that installed slot machines to set aside x% of their revenue to fund horse retirement facilities in the state. They felt that they were instrumental enough within the racing community to deliver the votes, one way or the other, depending on whether or not the tracks would agree to this addendum.

I told you it was brilliant, but I fear that it has not come to pass. Which is why I would urge those Maryland residents to vote NO on slots, unless there is a provision to use some of the revenue to care for retired horses in the state.

Those who fear the demise of the racing industry without the slots, should consider that without added funds to care for those already "in the system," the potential exists for there to be even more "retired" horses to care for if some of the local tracks shut down.

Pleas let me know if I am mistaken about this bill, especially if it does provide for care of retired horses. If it does, vote YES and make sure you get all your friends to do likewise.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Ounce of Prevention...

In the wake of Big Brown's injury, the cover of the September 27 Bloodhorse, really caught my eye. Preventing Injury, it reads in big red type. Now there's a novel concept. Just like preventive medicine, Dr. Sheila Lyons, the author of the piece, advocates proactive "treatment" for horses that are not lame, especially when they switch racing surfaces.

It is a fascinating read. "In summary, the horses that train and race on dirt, and then make the switch to synthetic, reveal a clear and typical pattern of abnormal muscle tension and dysfunction on testing," Lyons writes. "Secondary to this muscle pathology, horses that have not previously suffered from traumatic fetlock arthritis and other soft tissue damage are presenting with these conditions if their large skeletal muscle problems are not addressed. This is where the risk of catastrophic injury occurs, and it can persist after the horse switches back to the dirt."

In other words, just because a horse who has switched surfaces does not present as lame, does not mean that his muscles are not strained by the switch in racing surfaces. And neglecting to tend to these muscle adaptations can lead to disaster down the stretch.

All of which makes absolutely perfect sense. Think about it. If you are a casual or serious runner, you know that if you usually run on pavement and then switch to a soft track or even grass, your back and leg muscles feel different for the first few runs. Sometimes they cramp or tighten. Normally this goes away as your body adjusts but you are not putting 1100 pounds on your legs with each step; nor are you running at 40 miles per hour.

The point here is that Dr. Lyons recommends careful monitoring of horses before these problems escalate especially if the horse is switching surfaces. She further recommends neuromuscular stimulation on a regular basis to stay ahead of the injury curve.

Sounds like a plan although I doubt if it would have helped Big Brown's tender feet. The new racing surface, however, could have put more strain on those delicate tootsies and the result could have been catastrophic.

The bottom line seems to be the same for horses and humans: catch little problems before they become big to try and prevent career ending injuries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Whitfield Honored

Faithful readers of this blog should know my preference for our current Democratic candidate for president but that does not mean that all Republicans are created equal. Case in point: U. S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican, who represents Kentucky's 1st Congressional District. Whitfield was just awarded the Horseman of the Year Award by the Humane Society of the United States.

You might remember that I met personally with Rep. Whitfield when I was in Washington last Spring to cover the "blitz" by the anti-slaughter organizations on our elected officials. I should add that he left a committee meeting to speak to me personally for about 45 minutes about his strong commitment to anti-slaughter legislation as well as investigations into the use of drugs in horse racing.

You might also remember that Rep. Whitfield was one of the high ranking members of the Senate Committee that investigated horse racing later last Spring, in the wake of the Eight Belles tragedy at the Kentucky Derby.

I can tell you that there is not a more deserving man for this award. He is genuine, deeply concerned about the welfare of horses (even at the expense of the industry) and not afraid to take on the agriculture lobby in an agricultural state. This man is a true advocate for horses and has made a career out of doing the right thing in a town where that does not always seems to be the trend.

So just because I was not thrilled to learn that a certain vice-presidential candidate was in my town last Saturday night to throw out the ceremonial first puck at the professional hockey game, I am thrilled that one of her party was honored with well-deserved recognition.

Note to presidential candidate of the same party: this is how you practice what you preach, bi-partisan praise for a job well done.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Big Brown Retired

And so the great showdown is not to be. Big Brown has been retired after sustaining a foot injury during a workout on the turf at Aqueduct. Apparently he clipped his foot and tore off a big chunk. Ouch! Sounds like it was pretty fragile to begin with...

It is a shame of course that the great duel between Curlin and Big Brown will not transpire in the Breeder's Cup Classic as many had hoped. But there is, of course, the chance that it might not have happened even if Big Brown had stayed wound.

Remember there has been no announcement regarding Curlin's entry into the Classic. A lot was dependent on how he liked the synthetic surface and the jury still seems to be out. And call me cynical, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Big Brown's feet have not been the same since the Kentucky Derby.

The way I look at it, the Big Brown connections were extremely lucky to have had the chance to redeem themselves with the Haskell after the Belmont fiasco and they made a very wise decision. There is no way that Lady Luck would have shined on them again considering the increasingly fragile nature of his feet. Those infrequent workouts on the turf were just a hint of how they must have been holding this horse together with glue and prayers for a very long time.

So I am disappointed that racing will not have a classic duel in a classic race in a year in which the sport could use a shot of classic public interest, BUT I am delighted that the pubic will not turn in to see Big Brown turn in a performance that could have been a disaster. Just imaging what would have happened had he run on those fragile feet and not finished. You might as well kiss the sport goodbye.

Look at it as a chance for redemption. What could be better for racing than to conduct a prime time racing card without a single injury or breakdown? Right now, the way I look at it, that would be better than a classic duel any day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Trouble with Leona

A recent article in The New Yorker by Jeffrey Toobin discussed the changing world of pet law, specifically focusing on the bequest left by Leona Helmsley to her Maltese, Trouble."In her will, which she signed two years before her death, Helmsley put aside twelve million dollars in a trust to care for Trouble," he writes. Further, she instructed that Trouble be interred in the Helmsley Mausoleum.

All of which is eccentric perhaps, but nonetheless, Leona's prerogative. Where things get a bit dicey is with the mission statement of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsely Charitable Trust, to which the bulk of Leona's estate was left. As Toobin puts it: "According to a 'mission statement' which Helmsely signed on Marcy 1, 2004, the trust was to make expenditures for 'purposes related to the provision of care for dogs.'" This Trust could be worth nearly eight billion dollars making it potentially the largest charitable trust ever to focus specifically on caring for dogs.

Of course, no one knows exactly what type of care this will be and while lawyers are arguing over the details, animal rights groups are already submitting proposals for their respective causes. The question, however, does not seem to be whether or not Leona had the right to create a trust to care for dogs, rather whether or not the trust will be administered in the way she envisioned, because no one seems to know what she envisioned.

Much is made of Ms. Helmsely's disdain for people--in fact the existence of a trust fund to care for Trouble seems to underscore Leona's well documented difficulties in dealing with people. But little is said about the fact that Leona cared enough about her dog to plan ahead for his care when she was gone. A bit lavishly perhaps, but planning is planning.

The law, in effect, is changing its categorization of pets from property to something closer to children and not everyone is comfortable with this new shift. The idea is not to extend the rights of humans to animals--seriously that would never fly--but to remove them from the classification of property and therefore become eligible to become beneficiaries of these trusts.

Horse trusts are becoming legitimate vehicle for providing for the care of your horse after you are gone. Whey shouldn't dog trusts be equally viable?

But Leona's story makes a few points very clear. It is necessary to be very clear about your intentions and to choose people as executors who will take their responsibilities seriously. It is very important to specify the goals of the trust you intend to endow. Don't expect people to be able to guess your wishes--especially if you have more furry friends than two legged ones--and think carefully about the legacy you are crafting.

It seems to me that had Leona truly thought about her intentions, she might have changed her legacy from one of cold hearted gold digger to one who wanted to make the world a better place for dependent domestic animals.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Future of Mammals

Researchers who have just completed the most exhaustive study ever undertaken on the future of mammals have seen the future and it does not look good. In fact, according to the report, one in every four of the world's mammals are thought to be in danger.

"It's a critical time in the conservation of mammals," notes Andrew Derocher, a leading Canadian polar-bear expert and biologist at the University of Alberta, and one of the researchers. "We really are on a tipping point in terms of species loss."

The root of the problems: humans. Habitat loss and hunting are seen as the main culprits for land species; chemical pollution, fishing nets, and climate change are some of the dangers that marine species face.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature led the team of researchers (over 1700 contributed to the findings) and while they did not have conclusive data on all species of mammals, there were 188 who made the "critically endangered" list. Among these are the baiji, a freshwater dolphin from China's Yangtze River that is actually so rare it is considered "on the edge of extinction or possibly extinct."

The most threatened species are in South and Southeast Asia in areas like the Western Ghats in India where wild elephants and mongooses are in a critical zone.

I would be remiss if I did not remind you of a certain candidate's passion for hunting, especially from helicopters, some of the very mammals whose existence is challenged as well as her arguments to NOT place polar bears on the endangered species list.

According to Professor Durocher, future human societies will "marvel that we were so short sighted that we didn't do something in time." Need I say more?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

PA Puppy Mill Bill Passes!

News Flash!!! Hot off the Wires!!! The Puppy Mill Bill has passed in Pennsylvania!!!!

According to the Inquirer, Governor Rendell signed the new legislation on Thursday evening and a ceremonial bill signing will be scheduled at a later date. Among other things, the new law: bans wire flooring, eliminates crate stacking, doubles the size of cages required and mandates exercise and twice yearly veterinary exams. All of these are expensive measures and the hope is that the existing puppy mills will either upgrade or go out of business. In addition, the new bill states that only a veterinarian may now euthanize a dog.

The new kennel standards apply to anyone selling more than 60 dogs per year and anyone selling a dog to a pet shop or wholesaler. According to officials quoted in the Inquirer, "that's roughly 650 of the 2,750 kennels in the state."

No doubt the extra publicity on the Oprah Show payed off as did all the recent newspaper articles about kennel busts and the recent shooting of over 80 dogs by one kennel operator who did not want to pay for vet care.

Although the law takes effect immediately it does provide breeders with one year to comply with the new standards and the opportunity to seek a three year waiver if they have no prior convictions and can provide evidence of other "substantial" kennel improvements.

Of course, this is not soon enough for all the rescue organizations who have brought the plight of these animals out in the open but something is better than nothing. In addition, the bill does not provide for extra enforcement officers, but it is hoped that those who do these inspections will now have more leverage to shut down operations.

All of which requires the public to maintain its vigilance even while giving itself a pat on the back for a job well done.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Warning About Exotic Pets and Kids

The American Academy of Pediatrics has gone on the record with the warning that young children should not keep exotic pets. By this they mean: hedgehogs, hamsters, baby chicks, lizards and turtles.

The dangers: Bites, scratches and sometimes "deadly germs," especially nasty for those under the age of 5.

I never have had rodents as pets--predominantly because the many dogs with whom I have shared my life would probably make their existence in my home pretty short lived--but I have never really heard of a young child becoming dangerously ill from a pet hamster. In fact, for those with allergies, hamsters were always the "permitted" pet, presumably because of the lack of dander.

Yet, according to Dr. Larry Pickering, lead author of the report from which this recommendation ensued, "Most parents clearly don't understand the risks from various infections these animals can carry." For example, about 11% of salmonella illnesses in children are thought to stem from contract with lizards, turtles and other reptiles. Hamsters carry this same germ.

Of course in my germ-infested youth, we got turtles from the circus in those little plastic dishes that resembled desert islands complete with the requisite plastic palm tree. And somehow we survived--probably because the turtles never managed to last that long.

The moral of the story: wait until your children are older than 5 to bring home an exotic pet. Which is actually pretty good advice for those contemplating the purchase of any pet--exotic or not. And wash your hands after you play with whatever you buy!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Boys and Their Toys...

According to Sunday's New York Times, single men and cats go together, well like the stereotypical men and retrievers. Although there are no statistics, according to the Times, "Sandra DeFeo, an executive director at the Humane Society of New York, said she had seen an increase in the number of single, straight men who are adopting cats."

And that opinion is seconded by Carole Wilbourn, a cat therapist in the Big Apple, who notes that her single, straight male clients have increased by about 25% in the last five years.

Some people attribute this trend to the gradual "evolution" of men; others to the fact that guys have wised up to the fact that cats make better city pets. While there is definitely no "chick magnet" factor because it is rare indeed that cats are leash walked, their relatively low maintenance life style is most definitely compatible with the single lifestyle. And cats, after all, provide the companionship that people look for in a pet.

Ernest Hemmingway was a great cat lover. When I visited his house in Key West a few years ago, it was populated by hundreds of cats--some of whom the natives say are descended from those Papa himself owned. And rumor has it that Marlon Brando found a stray cat while filming The Godfather and insisted that it be included in a scene.

In fact, according to John Scalzi, a writer in Bradford, Ohio, dogs are for those who are less secure, because they are "your wingmen." "If you're feeling insecure about your space in the world, you get a dog because he will always back you up," he elaborates. "He's sharing his space with a predator."

And lest you doubt the intensity of the relationship between a man and his cat, consider the saga of one Adam Fulrath who has chosen his cat over women allergic to felines. "Realistically, unless there's something absolutely amazing about her, [the cat] wins."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm Gonna Live Forever....

So who says you can't live forever? A European company, Cryzootech, has announced the Sept. 18 birth of the clone of Calvaro 5, the top-ranked jumper (now deceased) of Swiss rider Villi Melliger. Calvaro 5 died in 2003.

It actually took 5 years to clone this horse successfully. The first embryos were obtained in 2005 but the first pregnancy was not achieved until 2005. Unfortunately that foal was born premature and died. A new attempt occurred in 2007 and the first clone was born in August of this year. The new baby is the second clone of the champion horse who won silver medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games in show jumping.

The first horse cloned by this company was born in 2003. According to The, "Cryozootech founder, Eric Palmer, approached Melliger with the idea of cloning Calvaro in 2002, but because the process was so new, Melliger declined Palmer's offer." He relented after the first clone was born and allowed Melliger to take a DNA sample just before Calvaro died.

No word on how much this process costs or whether or not the cloned horses are healthy enough to compete in show jumping. It all sounds very eerie to me and filled with ethical nightmares. And as much as I would love to clone certain aspects of my beloved beasts, there is something to be said for starting over that honors the ones that have left this earth.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The World's Best Paid Authors

So Forbes has published its list of the world's best paid authors and I'm not on it. In fact, neither are most of the writers I know, which doesn't mean that we don't get paid to craft stories. It just means that we don't get paid well.

Topping the list is , of course, J. K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, who according to Forbes, "banked a jaw-dropping $300 million over the course of the year." Next in line is James Patterson who has moved from thriller author to screen-play creator, having crafted the series Women's Murder Club for Disney. His take: $50 million in a year.

And in #3, is Stephen King who earned $45 million in twelve months, probably most of it in royalties.

So who doesn't want to be an author?

The problem is that there are probably only ten who make these big bucks--Grisham, Steele, Koontz and Follett are all on the list--and the rest of us are happy when an agent returns our phone calls.

In the same week that Forbes unveiled this list, I received another list of new literary publishers, who are trying to break into the business by discovering their version of these superstars. They are all young, very well-intentioned and seem like decent people but I am afraid that they may all fade into obscurity unless they get lucky.

When son #2 was in middle school, he attended some sort of basketball camp where the pros gave talks about how difficult it was to make it in the big leagues. The statistics meant more to the parents, of course, but it was something incredibly discouraging like 1 out of every 5,000 (I'm making this up but you get the idea) is good enough to play in the pros. It might even be harder than that.

Of course, these young kids continued to dream of being the next Alan Iverson and of course we writers continue to harbor similar fantasies of our own. And actually, who's to say some of us aren't just as talented as those who earn millions?

The problem is that the longer the system continues to over-reward the ones at the top, the less is available to publishers to take a chance on the future.And the more we continue to dream...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Animated Stars

Two new dog animated movies are slated to hit the Metroplex this month and both will most likely incite a run on the breeds portrayed. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is all about those pampered pooches that get toted around in designer bags by the 90210 crowd and Bolt is about a movie star German shepherd (a la Rin Tin Tin) that discovers he is only a "super-dog" on film.

The Disney film, 1001 Dalmations inspired a buying frenzy for Dalmation puppies, many of which found their way to local shelters when their owners discovered that they grow up pretty quickly and need lots of room to run. This "lifestyles of the rich and famous" take on the Chihuahua does nothing to promote the fact that these little dogs have no idea they are little unless they are dressed in diamonds and coddled like stuffed animals. They really are smart, tough little dogs who don't deserve the Paris Hilton rap. Let them be dogs for heavens sake. Dogs truly don't need to wear clothes and jewels.

As for German Shepherds, well I adore them but they require serious and consistent training. You also have to be very careful about hip issues when purchasing a shepherd and this should not be undertaken to satisfy a kid's yearning for a dog just like in the movies.

These silver-screen pooches are animated to be sure but the problem is that the real ones act look a lot like the ones on the screen and what four year old does not want a puppy?

Please do me a favor if you take wee ones to see these films. Buy them all the stuffed animals they want but please refrain from purchasing the real thing unless you know what you are getting yourself into.

Buyer beware and buyer be smart.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Another Puppy Mill Bust

Yet another kennel-bust in my neck of the woods that gives increased urgency to the puppy mill legislation floating around Harrisburg. On Wednesday, Almost Heaven Kennel, in Emmaus, owned by Derbe Eckhart, was raided. Between 800 and 1,000 animals were discovered to be existing in inhumane conditions.

SPCA workers removed 56 of the sickest on Wednesday and returned on Thursday to remove more. Also on Thursday, the owner of the kennel had his state kennel license revoked and was charged with two counts of animal cruelty. These two counts included negligence in providing veterinary care and for housing animals in poor sanitary conditions.

The most amazing aspect of this story is the fact that in August, this same kennel passed inspection by a team of three dog wardens and Bureau Director Sue West. They said they found no violations.

According to the Inquirer, "The agent who raided the property said conditions in a house and numerous rundown outbuildings were deplorable; overcrowded cages, dogs covered in their own waste, animals suffering from a range of maladies including dehydration, skin conditions and wounds."

It is hard to imagine that "rundown buildings" become that way in two months especially when coupled with the fact that Eckhart, the kennel operator, has been convicted twice of animal cruelty during the 20 years that he has operated a kennel.In fact, in 2004, Eckhart was thrown out of the American Kennel Club for misrepresenting dogs that he had sold as AKC registered. That ban is for life.

The good news is that many of the dogs that were removed are responding well to TLC and some might even be ready for adoption next week. The bad news is that corruption seems to pervade even those departments charged with protecting beings that cannot protect themselves.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Trouble at Crufts

When Son #1 was living in London, one of my visits with him coincided with Crufts Dog Show, which truly is the biggest dog show in the world. Just to give you an idea of its size, consider that they have a separate day for each of the divisions. On the day that we visited it was nothing but Herding dogs. By contrast, at Westminster, Herding would be competing with two other divisions on the same day.

Anyway, it was something to see--I don't think I have ever seen so many collies in one place at one time--and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Which is why I was surprised to read that both the RSPCA (Royal SPCA) and The Dogs Trust, two of England's most prestigious and well respected humanitarian agencies have both pulled their booths out of the upcoming Crufts show in March.

The reason: a recent BBC documentary entitled Pedigree Dogs Exposed in which the question of canine health and welfare was often demonstrated to be in stark opposition to the goals of breeders. "Dog shows using current breed standards as the main judging criteria actively encourage both the intentional breeding of deformed and disabled dogs and the inbreeding of closely related animals,"says RSPCA chief veterinary advisor Mark Evans. "There is compelling scientific evidence that the health and welfare of hundreds of thousands of pedigree dogs is seriously compromised as result."

Evans contends that shows that judge their best of show based on current breed stands are "fundamentally flawed." The RSPCA wants "to see emphasis shifted away from arbitrary appearance so that health, welfare and temperament are considered first and foremost."

Certainly the hip issues that have surfaced over the years in German Shepherds, Goldens and Labs are prime examples of the "deformities" being in-bred to meet breed standards. Who knows if such inbreeding is also partially responsible for the occurrence of cancer in certain breeds like boxers? I know for a fact that in-breeding in collies caused gigantic eye problems within the breed that has taken years to overcome.

So bravo to the RSPCA for putting temperament above appearance and for commissioning an independent review of the science in this field. We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway and every dog is beautiful to its owner.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Travels with the Pack

In case you are wondering how life with three big dogs is progressing, I thought I would give you an update on my daily travels with the "pack" as I commonly refer to Phoebe, Amos and Sammy.

One of the biggest challenges has been to figure out a way to walk all three--ideally at the same time. I tired many configurations of leashes and dogs--when it was too hot, I would simply leave Amos home because I thought he would get heat stroke with all his fur (even with his summer "do"). When I did take all three, I would end up a tangle of leashes, especially when they would stop and sniff every bush.

I had purchased a double dog leash from an internet company,, and loved it but the thought of three actually scared me, in terms of weight alone. How would I ever be able to control three dogs who clearly outweighed me by a considerable amount with only one handle?

I finally gave in and purchased a triple leash and from the first walk, I am happy to report it has changed my life. I had clearly underestimated the advantage of one handle! Much easier..although still challenging. We have been experimenting with different configurations for a while--two dogs are linked together and the third has a slightly longer leash and is free to travel around the other two--and I think we have hit on the perfect combo.

Sammy ends up in the middle and in the lead most of the time and Phoebe and Amos surround him. Phoebe gets the longest leash--because it seems to work better that way and Amos just goes with the flow.

I cannot report tangle free existence--the hook up requires vigilance on my part to stop and put my handle through the leash ends if Phoebe wanders to the middle--but most of the time the dogs actually manage to untangle themselves. In this photo Amos and Sammy are a little twisted but that too usually solves itself--Sammy usually just dances around Amos a few time in the opposite direction and Voila!

Actually, the more I try to control them, the more tangled they get. So if I just give them a loose leash, they work it out. Trust me it is still no fun when all three decide to exert their protective instincts at once--I took quite a tumble last week across a gravel road when all three decided to bark aggressively at another dog who caught up with us from behind--but all in all, we're all getting better at walking as a team.

As it is with most things in life, practice, patience and routine seem to pay off eventually. The moral of the story: hang in there, don't try to control everything and try to catch potential knots before they become too big.

Pretty good advice for a lot of things.....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Life Explained

I can't take any credit for this but thought it was worthy enough to share:

Life Explained

On the first day, God created the dog and said:

"Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years."

The dog said: "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?"

So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said:

"Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span."

The monkey said: "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"
And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said:

"You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years."

The cow said: "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?"

And God agreed again.

On the fourth day, God created man and said:

"Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years."

But man said: "Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten
the dog gave back; that makes eighty, Okay?"

"Okay," said God, "You asked for it."

So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

Life has now been explained to you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Less May be Best

Economic uncertainty is clearly trickling down. Keeneland Fall sales were down and there were less foals in the current crop.

On September 24, Fran Jurga posted an interesting take on why less foals may actually be a key to passage of the anti-slaughter bills floating around Congress, especially for organizations that take an opposition stance. It might be sub-titled "Putting your money where your mouth is" and her ten points are extremely well taken.

So is the alarming photo of horse carcasses that greets you.

Consider yourself warned. It is still well worth reading....