Saturday, February 28, 2009

Update on Canine Cancer Treatments

Many of you know that I feel a special kinship with the topic of canine cancer. I still get e-mails and an occasional phone call, out of the blue, from someone who has found the Saving Bentley story on the web and wants to talk to me about what they are experiencing with their own dog. I still know that more dogs get cancer than people and I still know there are many hearts that break because of this disease.

There was an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times about the growing popularity of oncology as a veterinary specialty, focusing on one group, Rosenberg's Veterinary Cancer Group in Los Angeles. "Treating animal cancer has become a multimillion dollar business..."

Rosenberg's group started 17 years ago and now included nine oncologists, an acupuncturist, two offices and all the resources needed to perform the various lab procedures that are a part of cancer treatment for pets, including x-rays, blood tests, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. The protocol seems to be very similar to the one used at Penn, which is predominantly a team centered approach, and the mantra of "quality of life" applies equally on both coasts.

In fact, most of what I read in the article is what I experienced at Penn when Bentley was being treated including the fact that most dogs do not get the side effects of treatment that humans do because the goal is to prolong their lives, not cure their diseases. It is a approach that we don't accept on the human level, and it accounts for the roller coaster ride that treating a pet with cancer often feels like.

And as for those who question the practice of treating pets with cancer in the first place, well, they don't have to. But some of the most important developments in human disease treatment have come from treating animals.

Clearly, many people are pursuing many options when it comes to taking care of their pets for the duration and, in my opinion, they should be entitled to these options. Once you have been there, you are forever changed.

For an inspirational take on the canine cancer topic, I remind you of the journey Luke is taking with his dogs, walking from Dallas to Boston, to raise money and awareness for canine cancer.

As he would say, "Puppy up!"

Friday, February 27, 2009

Needed: Heroic Horse

So I watched some of the Academy Awards last weekend live and some via Tivo (that show is very long...) because I had actually seen all five of the movies nominated for best picture. For the record, I loved all of them for different reasons and had decided, in the right environment, each one of them could have been chosen. The point about Slum Dog Millionaire being a perfect pick for our economic conditions was made over and over and I think that it's right. Movies do capture the essence of their eras and it is always nice to be reminded that the underdog can indeed triumph.

There is a horse link here so bear with me. I am knee deep in the heroic horses section of my thesis and combing old newspaper articles and magazine pieces about Seabiscuit and Secretariat. It is astounding how the media shapes our perception of heroes but it is also amazing how much we need a hero now, given the times. Seabiscuit really did come to represent hope for the challenged in the midst of some pretty dark times in our country. Just why it takes a horse is still a mystery to me--although I think some of it has to do with the horse's general allure and the fact that he somehow strides both the manmade and the natural environments--but I truly do think we are ready for a new equine hero right about now.

So far I truly don't see a potential Triple Crown winner blooming but you never know. One thing I do know is that if there is one this year or next, that horse will grab hold of the public's imagination the same way Seabiscuit did.

So maybe in your Derby musings, you should consider a horse who has done little lately to make the story complete. You know, the come-from-behind, give-me-a-chance type usually overlooked. That's what we need right about now.

Here's the other thing that struck me about the Academy Awards: nearly everyone who was honored spoke about how long they had dreamed of the honor--some a literal lifetime. The moral of that story: good things do seem come to those who persist and wait.

Which was actually just what I needed to have reinforced when the finish line of this project seems miles away.....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Duck Tale

Here is a wonderful human-animal story sent to me by a friend.

Subj: A True Duck Story From San Antonio

A True Duck Story From San Antonio ...

Something really cute happened in downtown San Antonio this week. Michael R. is now an accounting clerk at Frost Bank and works downtown in a second story office building. Several weeks ago, he watched a mother duck choose the concrete awning outside his window as the unlikely place to build a nest above the sidewalk.

The mallard laid ten eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 10 feet in the air. She dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday afternoon all of her ten ducklings hatched.

Michael worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching. Tuesday morning, Michael watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off!

The mother flew down below and started quacking to her babies above. In his disbelief Michael watched as the first fuzzy newborn toddled to the edge and astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the cement below. Michael couldn't stand to watch this risky effort. He dashed out of his office and ran down the stairs to the sidewalk where the first obedient duckling was stuporing near its mother from the near fatal fall.

As the second one took the plunge, Michael jumped forward and caught it with his bare hands before it hit the concrete. Safe and sound, he set it by the momma and the other stunned sibling, still recovering from its painful leap.

One by one the babies continued to jump. Each time Michael hid under the awning just to reach out in the nick of time as the duckling made its free fall. The downtown sidewalk came to a standstill. Time after time, Michael was able to catch the remaining 8 and set them by their approving mother.

At this point Michael realized the duck family had only made part of its dangerous journey. They had 2 full blocks to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs, and pedestrians to get to the closest open water, the San Antonio River .
The onlooking office secretaries and several San Antonio police officers joined in. They brought an empty copy paper box to collect the babies. They carefully corralled them, with the mother's approval, and loaded them in the container. Michael held the box low enough for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated through the downtown streets toward the San Antonio River . The mother waddled behind and kept her babies in sight.

As they reached the river, the mother took over and passed him, jumping into the river and quacking loudly. At the water's edge, he tipped the box and helped shepherd the babies toward the water and to their mother after their adventurous ride.

All ten darling ducklings safely made it into the water and paddled up snugly to momma. Michael said the mom swam in circles, looking back toward the beaming bank bookkeeper, and proudly quacking.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Good Dog Gala Part II

Imagine going to a big dog park wearing nice clothes. That was essentially the atmosphere at the PSPCA Big Dog Gala last Saturday night where guests were highly encouraged to bring their four legged friends of the canine variety. My guess is that there were at least 350 people there--the ballroom was sold out and packed and there must have been at least 150 dogs of every size, shape and variety.

Cocktails were a bit challenging since the space was long and narrow. We had to wind our way through lots of people with lots of dogs, but amazingly, there was very little barking or misbehaving. The dogs got it--and it helped that there was food involved. The highlight of the evening for the dogs, no doubt, was the ample "Treat Bar" set up next to a human bar, where the samples were free, abundant and actually pretty appetizing. I have no idea what Amos ate but he ate a lot of cookies that seemed to have some sort of icing on them. In fact, once he discovered the treat bar, he was reluctant to leave the area!

There was also a vast silent auction but with Amos on one arm and a drink in the other, I found it difficult to wander and peruse all the offerings. I did spot lots of dog-inspired gift baskets, pet portraits, training sessions as well as tickets to lots of events, including the Oprah Show and the Martha Stewart Show. There were also lots of restaurant and hotel packages. Next year, I will be better prepared to put my name down for some goodies. I also will wear something with pockets!

Dinner was unbelievably calm, all things considered. You should have seen waiters climbing over various dogs who had sprawled out table side--Amos included, by the way-- with plates of our delicious vegetarian meal. Amos even managed to eat some couscous!

Between dinner and dessert, I handed Amos off to one of the many available "dog valets" who took him for a nice walk. When he got back, however, right before dessert, he announced he was ready to go home--a lot of barking!!--so off we went. So no report on dessert, but we beat the car retrieval line and Amos was the perfect date!!! We did notice that most people with dogs were heading for the elevators about the time we did.

Here's the thing: everybody was totally understanding about everything. Nobody cared if your dog drooled, shed, wagged their tail in their face, or whatever. If you bumped into someone, they just smiled and said how beautiful your dog was. In fact, everybody had a smile on their faces. There was a lot of petting, cooing and generally being nice.

I truly do believe dogs bring out the best in their owners and in people in general. I would spend an evening in a room filled with dogs and their people anytime!! In fact, if people took their dogs more places, the world would probably be a much more friendly and accommodating place.

I had truly forgotten how wonderful dog people are and Amos had the time of his life. I told him NOT to tell Phoebe the evening involved food or there would be no living with her, but I'm afraid he has let the cat out of the bag. Phoebe has informed me, she is ordering her tiara for the event next year...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Good Dog Gala

It seems as if the pet business is surviving the downturn in the economy fairly well. From what I hear the Pet Expo last month in Vegas was the biggest yet and my friends in the business say they are doing OK. Certainly business was robust at the sold-out Pennsylvania SPCA Gala last Saturday night at the Loews Philadelphia. The Good Dog Gala honored six individuals and organizations that have made life better for pets and was a lovely affair.

Here's what set the event apart from other charity functions. You were "highly" encouraged to bring your own dog to the Good Dog Gala!!! So with Amos as my date, we set off for a wonderful evening. Here are some of my photos:

Amos wore a spiffy plaid bow tie!

Some new friends we met at the party. This was during the cocktail hour.

Some more new friends. Some were even dressed for the occasion!

Our dinner partner! At our table of ten there were five dogs!!!!

Amos had a most wonderful time!!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Slaughter Debate Heats Up

Things are heating up once again in the horse slaughter debate in Congress and it seems as if the economy is prompting some of the actions.

As of Feb. 12, lawmakers in Wyoming and Utah sponsored resolutions urging Congress to let state legislators decide about the viability of horse slaughter within their respective states. These resolutions come out strongly opposed to the federal Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act currently in committee.

As of Feb. 19, the list had grown to seven states actively considering the reestablishment of horse processing plants within their state borders and coming out in opposition to Conyers-Burton. These states are: Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. There were also five more states who were actively working on bills that amending state laws to promote private plant development. These are: Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee.

One argument for the reintroduction of slaughter plants has to do with the creation of jobs--a topic that certainly strikes a chord with those out of work anywhere. Of course the question of what kind of jobs these remains undisclosed are but I am assuming there are construction jobs at stake as well as those of staffing these facilities.

It is ironic that the pro-slaughter movement is gaining momentum even as Reps. Jim Moran (d-VA) and Elton Gallegly )R-CA) announced that they will co-chair the newly formed "Congressional Animal Protection Caucus" (CAPC)committed to raising awareness of animal welfare issues in Congress. This new caucus takes the place of the Friends of Animal Caucus that previously existed and took credit for passing stricter animal fighting legislation as well as tougher farm animals welfare regulations.

And how about this for timing? Among the "priorities" for this new caucus is legislation "banning the slaughter of horses."

I'm not sure if this new pro-slaughter movement is business as usual from the states who always supported the practice, but I do know that the added argument for job creation may find a more sympathetic audience than the "unwanted horses" one. Equally ironic, however, is the thought that Wyoming, home of Madeline Pickens' presumed shelter for wild mustangs is among those seeking to create slaughter plants within its borders.

Stay tuned. This promises to be a long, drawn-out battle.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pets Worth Watching

Recently some television programs have done wonderful jobs of exploring the bonds we share with out pets. Check your listings for Why We Love Cats and Dogs, a Nature series on PBS as well as Presidential Dogs on Animal Planet.

You can actually watch both episodes on line. Why We Love Cats and Dogs is an interesting look at the the similarities and differences between the top two pets. Cat people, as you might already know, seem very distinct from dog people, but the bonds they share with their pets are equally strong. I was especially intrigued by the section on cats and dogs who grow up together and the closeness they share. My dogs are not thrilled with cats but it is probably because the only one with whom they come into contact with on a regular basis lives at the vet!

Presidential Dogs is also available for viewing on line and when you watch it you will decide that in your next life you want to come back as a White House dog! With 15 acres of lawn to explore, chefs and dog walkers at your disposal as well as what ever rooms the first family deems pet friendly within the White House itself, I can safely say that Phoebe wants to move in!

In keeping with the presidential theme, the Newseum in Washington has an exhibit, First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets through May 2009. Sound fascinating to learn of the role journalists played in promoting our national infatuation with these pooches. Let me know if you go.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Reason to Quit Smoking

From the NY Times comes a new reason to get a dog: to help you quit smoking! A new survey suggests that pet owners who smoke and seem unmotivated to quit, might change their tune if they realized that the second hand smoke was not doing their dogs any good.

"Pet owners in the U. S. are very devoted to their pets," noted the researchers, led by Dr. Sharon Ford of the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan. The dangers of second hand smoke in cats has been well documented (I remember hearing about it when I was researching pets with cancer) so it only makes sense that it would prove equally deadly to dogs and other pets. According to the study, second hand smoke has been linked to lymphomas in cats and nasal and lung cancer in dogs.

The study consisted of an online survey conducted primarily in Michigan that drew responses from 3,293 pet owners. Of these, 27% had at least one smoker in the home. When informed of the dangers their habits were causing their pets, 28% said that the knowledge would make them try to quit. 90% of the smokers said they would ban smoking in the house once they found out it was harming their pets.

So, if you can't kick the habit and live with a pet, this may be all the motivation you need to try once more. And if you do smoke and are thinking about getting a pet, you might want to think about quitting before you do.

"This new source of motivation could be particularly strong for smokers, who aside from their animal companions, live alone," the study noted.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Turnaround is Fair Play

The recession is changing the composition of the service economy, especially those doing the serving. My check-out person at Trader Joe's a few months ago was a licensed architect who had recently been laid off. "I used to design Starbucks," he told me. "Now I'm happy to earn a paycheck."

Last Sunday, the New York Times carried a similar story in the Business section about a freelance writer who had taken a part-time job in a retail store, to help make ends meet as well as to give her some human contact in what can be an isolating profession. Some of the lessons she has learned are surprising.

"Sometimes I feel like Alice slipping though the looking glass, toggling through both worlds," writes Caitlin Kelly. "I slip from a life of shared intellectual references and friends with Ivy graduate degrees into a land of workers who are often invisible and deemed low-status."

Yet, for all their stereotypical "low status," the workers she encounters in her retail job are anything but. "Our employees include nationally ranked athletes, a former professional ballet dancer and a former officer in the French Foreign Legion," Kelly notes. Their status seems to be troublesome only to those customers who feel entitled to treat them as "inferior." "When you wear a plastic name badge, few bother to read it," Kelly writes.

The objective in the retail marketplace is clearly defined: volume, and for this journalist by trade, the surprising objectivity is refreshing. Egos, perceptions, who you know, all play a part in getting ahead in the cut throat environment of journalism. In retail, its all about how much you sell. "Our retail sales floor is the levelest playing field I've yet seen," she writes.

Now before you rush out and get a part time retail job, be forewarned that Ms. Kelly can only afford to do this part time. And in this economy, those retail jobs may, in fact, be harder and harder to come by. But the bottom line is this: treat everyone with respect, not because the clerk who is hanging up all the clothes you left on the floor of the dressing room may have a college degree in economics, but because that is the way you should treat everyone.

You never know when and how you might have to redefine yourself.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Deer Hunters

Things are about to get ugly in the continuing battle against deer in my neck of the woods. Apparently, the herd of deer that inhabits Valley Forge Park numbers about 1,023 and is munching its way through most of the vegetation in the park. According to this report, Valley Forge officials plan to cull the herd by about 1,300 over the next four years using sharpshooters.

As you can well imagine, there are supporters on both sides of the issue. Park officials maintain that the deer have eaten so many shrubs, that the forest cannot regenerate. "Our goal is to restore a natural , healthy, functioning ecosystem," said Kristina Heister, park natural-resource manager. "We feel we need to act now, and we need to act quickly."

Opponents of the plan feel that natural selection is the best way to control the size of the herd and advocate letting nature take its course. "Free-living animals can control their numbers, and they do control their numbers," counters Lee Hall, legal director of the international advocacy group, Friends of Animals. "The best way to enable them to do this is to respect how they are, and where they are, because nature works."

White tailed deer seem to be everywhere these days, including my own back yard, although the dogs do keep them at bay. They are being displaced from their natural habitats by out incessant building, and the current housing bust may actually be a saving grace if we haven't already destroyed too much of their grazing grounds. To be fair, the ones in Valley Forge Park are especially immune to cars, humans and even some dogs. They just stand and look at you from about three feet away. These deer seem incredibly tame.

Which is why the uproar may be so loud. I guarantee that if these deer were frolicking through the forest underbrush and not blocking the roads or leaping in front of our cars at night, we would not even notice that some of them were gone. But when we see those seemingly innocent faces staring right back at us, well it seems to close for comfort.

I like deer just as much as the next person and I could never kill one myself. However, deer ticks are a serious issue for humans as well as other animals and I think we need to strike a balance between man and beast for the benefit of all. If there was a way to tranquilize the deer and transport them elsewhere, that would obviously be the best solution, but I just don't think it is economically viable. If there was a way to sterilize them, that might be another solution, but that is also tampering with nature.

The fact of the matter seems to be that the deer are thriving despite our damage to their natural environments. And they are thriving in habitats deprived of their natural predators because these habitats just happen to be national parks where people congregate. According to park officials, the 2007 total deer population was 193 per square mile, which exceeds scientific recommendations for forest regeneration.

It seems to me that, short of expanding the park, we need to limit the deer.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Koala Update

The koala seen 'round the world is making a good recovery according to the AP. For those of you who don't know, the koala in question is one "Sam," who was rescued from the worst-ever wildfires in Australia. The photo making the rounds is one of the adorable "Sam" drinking from the firefighter's water bottle when he spotted her in a burned out forest east of Melbourne.

Sam had singed paws and was one of the very lucky animals to survive the devastation. Apparently hundreds of kangaroos were found dead and hundreds more were badly burned in the inferno. Sam has been taken to the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter, where she has been befriended by another burn victim, koala Bob.

"Bob is her protector--as soon as she is moved, he's on the move too. It really looks like he's making sure she's OK," said caretaker Lynn Raymond. "They're good company for each other."

Both koalas will probably be at the shelter for some time to give their paws a chance to heal. Their burned paws get salve applied every few hours.

Contrary to the original reports that reported the rescue on Feb. 8, it actually happened a week earlier, three days after the fires broke out. Tree and his crew were dispatched to help contain six fires that had broken out in the Delburn area. He came across Sam and offered his bottle of water, which she eagerly gulped, while holding Tee's hand.

Normally koala bears are not cuddly "teddy bear" like most people believe. The marsupials are characterized as "ornery" with a low growl and sharp claws. "You all right, buddy?" Tree is heard asking in a video of the encounter.

The two were reunited at the shelter last week and Tree was reported to have fought back tears.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To Kindle or Not

So the new Kindle is out and the reviews are mixed. I think I am still holding out for the Apple version, which may or may not be an application on my phone (and which may or may not even exist), but I must admit the new version is beginning to look tempting.

A Kindle for those of you who don't know, is an electronic book reader, put out by Amazon, that enables you to download a book, directly to the machine in about 60 seconds. "Our vision is every book ever printed in any language all available in 60 seconds," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at the recent launch of the new model. It also allows you to download select newspapers and magazines. Downloads are realtively cheap--Amazon charges $9.99 for Kindle best sellers.

The original Kindle proved so popular that no one could get their hands on one. It was sold out for months--which also may have contributed to its popularity. Apparently the new one is going to be in stock.

The new device still lacks a color screen--which I must admit, I might find annoying especially if I was trying to read a magazine--but it is thinner and smaller. Also the downloading ability is apparently faster.

Here's the thing. I have a subscription to the New York Times on my phone and I still prefer reading the paper "in the flesh." What I find appealing about the Kindle is the ability to have instant access to any book, anywhere, but truthfully how often would I need something immediately? And then would I just end up with thousands of downloads that I never read?

People who have one, swear by it, especially those who travel. I'm not sure I can justify yet another separate device so I may wait until July, at which point I'm going to bite the bullet and upgrade to the new i-phone or succumb to Kindle longing.

Any thoughts?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Charging for Content

The cover story of the February 16 issue of Time magazine is a "modest proposal" by former managing editor Walter Isaacson, on how to save newspapers. His answer, by the way, is to require subscriptions for online versions, a la Wall Street Journal, so that readers pay for good content and newspapers are not beholden to advertisers.

Ironically, Isaacson's plan is needed just as desperately in the magazine world. The Wall Street Journal reported that newsstand sales of magazines fell at their fastest rate in decades during the second half of 2008. According to figures released last week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, "total single-copy magazine sales fell 11%." And this was on top of a 6.3% drop in the first half of the year.

Publishers are attributing the decline to all sorts of factors, predominantly the fact that people are not shopping as much so they have fewer chances to buy magazines. They also note that cover prices of magazines have risen even as publishers focus on wooing subscribers and advertisers. Advertisers are willing to pay to reach a guaranteed number of readers but it is getting tougher and tougher for publishers to guarantee that number.

As a result, have you noticed how thin your magazines are lately? According to the Publishers Information Bureau, the number of ad pages in consumer magazines fell 12% last year and were down 17% in the fourth quarter.

So we are in a viscous cycle. Advertisers won't pay the same rates to reach a smaller number of readers and magazines count on those rates to make money. And truthfully, how much longer are advertisers going to be willing to shell out big bucks for print ads anyway, especially when they might be able to reach their market more directly on the internet?

"Magazine publishers need to take a step back and rethink their circulation and honestly, rethink their whole business plan," said Brenda White, senior vice-president of media-buying agency Starcom USA. She predicts that only the strong brands will survive.

And by strong I think she means those willing to charge for content based on what they think that content is actually worth, which may be more than we're paying now. And should probably include internet as well as print access to what they have to say.

Isaacson is on to something: "Charging for content forces discipline on journalists: they must produce things people actually value." I would add that value is in the eye of the beholder. People always like it if they think they are getting more than their money's worth, which is just another way of saying, we need to raise both the bar and the ante.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Woman 1, Bird 0

For those of you who are wondering about my battle with an errant and very dirty robin, I am happy to report that I think I am winning the war. Physically trying to shoo him away with broom sticks, shovels and sticks did not work BUT hanging a windsock next to the ledge where he liked to perch and bang on the window has done the trick. I need to replace this windsock (which is decorated like a snowman) with an inflatable owl (on order) and that should do the trick.

Imagine my surprise, however, when I read in the paper the following headline: Fewer birds fly south in winter!! And how about this lead sentence: "The American robin, once known as a harbinger of spring, is now a year-round resident here, hunkering down for the winter in thickets." It is always very reassuring to know that I am not crazy for battling a robin in February!!

It turns out that robins are not the only ones who have chosen to winter in the north. According to the National Audubon Society, more than half the birds they track have shifted their ranges significantly to the north. In fact, Audubon says its data, collected by thousands of citizen scientists, "are powerful evidence that global warming is having a serious impact on natural systems."

"The range of habitat of one of the most important indicators in nature--birds--has radically changed," said Phil Wallis, executive director of Audubon Pennsylvania. and while amateur birders have suspected it for years because of sightings just like my robin, it is troubling to see it confirmed on such a large scale.

Apparently Pennsylvania is a critical state for birds making the shift because it serves as a prominent wildlife corridor. So all ye global warming doubters, take heed. Often you have to look no farther than your own back yard to see evidence that we are reeking havoc on the environment. Wildlife author Scott Weidensaul remarks that the report's "red-flag warning are pretty compelling" evidence that we need to re-double our efforts to preserve natural habitats for all species.

"We need to work to preserve them not only for the bird species that are here today, but ones that are going to be here a decade or more from now," he notes. And perhaps then my errant robin will take up residence elsewhere.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Blue Mustang

A horse, literally of a different color, is making headlines in Denver. Apparently a sculpture of a blue mustang rearing up on his hind legs, eyes glowing and nostrils flaring, is causing quite a stir among the residents of mile-high city. The 32 foot tall mustang, created by the late Luis Jiminez, is prominently displayed at the Denver International Airport, and not always viewed as a welcoming site.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Denver resident, Rachel Hultin, had even started a campaign to get the piece of public art removed, having enlisted over 700 supporters on her Facebook page, Bye, Bye Mustang.

She's up against quite a challenge as she is finding out. First of all, under the city's law, pieces of public art must remain in place for five years to honor the artist's intent and to give people a chance to adjust. And then there is the fact that the artist was actually killed while working on the piece. "In 2000, while he was hoisting pieces of the mustang for final assembly in his New Mexico studio, the horse's massive torso swung out of control and crushed the 65-year old artist," reports the WSJ. Jiminez's widow and children helped finance the finance the piece.

To Susan Jiminez, the piece reminds her of her husband, who loved petting his appaloosa, Blackjack. "I know he didn't mean anything demonic by it," she said. "I'm sorry if people are afraid of ribs on a horse."

Apparently Jiminez was known for his colorful stallions. Another, at the University of Oklahoma's art museum also caused quite a stir when it was installed in 1997. Since then, people have adjusted, especially after the artist paid a visit to respond to the complaints in person. "It's become a local landmark," remarks Susan Baley, a curator at the museum.

Not everyone thinks Jiminez's interpretation of horses is frightening. Betsy Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, sees deep symbolism in the pieces. "His is not a quiet, meditative, reflective art," she explains. "It's an art that says, 'This is important!' and reaches out to grab your attention."

It seems that the blue mustang has certainly done that for Denver's visitors and residents alike. And it also seems that it is staying put, for at least four more years. Just recently, Hultin decided to change her tactics. Instead of focusing on removing the piece, she is now launching a campaign to better understand and appreciate it. "When people see it, they'll be like 'Oh, that's interesting,'" she says.

Regardless of how you feel about the piece it seems to me it has accomplished just what public art sets out to do: get people talking, thinking and above all, looking at it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stumping for Stump

Here's to the new hero of the past-fifty generation: Stump, Westminster's Best In Show, a sussex spaniel who, at ten (yes, you read that right) is the oldest dog to win Best in Show. He is a charmer, for sure--the most adorable bounce in his step and those very long ears that waggle when he walks--and he does not look a day over five!!!

Stump is actually a tribute to the wonders of veterinary medicine, not only because he is about seventy in human years, but also because he almost died when he was five. Apparently his whole body just shut down and the vets at Texas A & M put him back together. He spent 19 days in the hospital--a steep bill for sure.

And then he retired to the life of a pet, sleeping on the bed and just enjoying having his humans at his beck and call, when his owner, on a lark, decided to enter him at Westminster. Or so the story goes, but since you have to qualify for Westminster, it was not such a lark. He had to work his way back into the show ring slowly, which he apparently did last year, coming out of retirement enough to make it back to the big time.

Maybe it was all that rest; maybe it was his maturity or maybe it was just his time to shine because shine he did. From the moment I saw him in the sporting class (although I was rooting, as always, for the golden who came in second), I had to admit, I was in love. Apparently he won the crowd over as well because the cheering and applause for him in the Best in Show class was impressive. He was clearly the favorite because he was, well, just because he was so "normal."

In the last two years, it seems as if Westminster is trying to remake itself more in the popular image. First Uno, the wonderful beagle and now Stump, just a regular golden oldie who gives hope to senior citizens everywhere. Could it be that the stuffy pedigree crowd has realized the popularity of dogs is at an all time high and they should be taking advantage of this rather than distancing itself from the masses as they used to do? Or could it be that judges of even the most uppity of dog shows are won over by charm as well as good looks? Or could it just be that these last two dogs were so spectacular that everyone else just looked too primped?

Regardless, kudos to Westminster for choosing a winner in every sense of the word.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mud Management

Mud management is a serious issue with horses and the key, as any horse owner will tell you, is prevention. Paddocks should be properly slanted so that the water does not stand, and drains must be kept clean.

All of which sounds great but when the seven plus inches of snow that we had, on top of about three inches of solid ice, all melted at once because the temperature hit fifty plus degrees for two days straight last week, followed by a week of forties, I knew I was going to need to do some serious mud management.

The problem was the underlying ice. The snow melted and drained, but when there was ice underneath, the water had no where to go. So it sat. On my terrace and throughout my backyard. And seemingly overnight three very happy dogs had in-ground swimming pools, everywhere they looked, filled with dirty, muddy and very cold water. And all I did was wash dogs and wash towels.

The other problem was that in areas of the backyard that had been hit by our drought (hard to believe) last Fall, there was no underlying grass. So when it thawed, there was nothing bu MUD. And I mean three inches of gooey, dirt.

I really was beside myself until I began to think like a horse owner. I knew I needed something to sop up the water and I finally hit upon straw. Sure enough, in consultation with my not so local Agway salesman, he concurred. Ultimately, I will need sod, but for now, straw is the answer.

Two bales later, my backyard looks like the inside of a stall and the mud situation is under control. The dogs are happy to be able to run around without sinking and for now, picking up pieces of straw that clings to their fur is better that vacuuming dirt off my rugs.

Problem temporarily solved unless it snows again and then I have no idea what will happen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lancelot in Duplicate

The great chronicler of popular culture, People magazine has a story in its February 16, 2009 issue that caught my eye. And no it wasn't the fact the Jessica Simpson is flaunting her "new" curves...

Rather, Edgar and Nina Otto, a Boca Raton couple, have shelled out $155,000 for a cloned puppy! The yellow lab puppy is cloned from the DNA of their beloved deceased lab named Lancelot and named Lancey. There is no doubt he is truly adorable--most yellow lab puppies are--and according to the owners, he "looks exactly" like their former dog.

There are quite a few issues here simmering underneath that precious face, not the least of which is the cost. But not to worry--Edgar is the son of NASCAR co-founder Edward Otto, and we all know how much money the gas guzzling sport rakes in. So the Ottos are not going hungry in favor of reproducing the past. Not to mention that they are generous philanthropists, having donated $333,000 since 2007 to their local Humane Society.

So its their money and, as they say, it is a free country. They are entitled to spend it as they see fit.

For me, there is a larger question of trying to replicate what they deem as perfection. Forget for a minute the obvious arguments about eliminating natural selection (if it even exists anymore) or "playing God," if you will. Call me hopelessly romantic (or naive) but I prefer to think that each pet comes into our lives at a certain time with certain characteristics in response to something that was lacking. And each new pet is special for who they are and what they bring to the relationship.

There is no doubt that Amos helped heal my broken heart after the devastating loss of Bentley, our previous collie, to cancer. And while Amos knows that was his job (and he knows that, trust me because he is my caretaker, extraordinaire), he is also different from Bentley and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Think back on the pets in your life. Have they each contributed something different or am I just being silly? I would hate to think we just go around in circles, never learning from new additions to the mix of our furry families.

I have loved many dogs, all of whom I knew were perfect, but I also believe it is worthwhile to open your heart to new blood when an old friend moves on. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ode to Newspapers

There was a great "ode" to newpapers in the Op-Ed section of my local paper this week and it asks some noteworthy questions. If newspapers are "dead," why then were people lining up to buy them the morning after both the election and the inauguration? Why couldn't I find an extra copy of our paper after the Phillies won the World Series?
And what do people pin to their bulletin boards when their kid's accomplishments are noted in print?

The bigger questions seems to be what will we save when there is nothing to save--printouts of on line reports?

I have a collection of notable front pages from notable events: 9/11, the World Series (of course) and the last election. My mother has some from the moon walk, Kennedy's assassination and funeral. You get the general idea: these are permanent records of the history we lived. Somehow, the internet does not do these things justice. Maybe it's fine to read about them on line, but when it is worth saving, I think we all still want something in print.

The fact that the Newseum in Washington has a notable collection of front pages also says something....

As Jay Smith, former CEO of Cox Newspapers notes in his piece: "Lose them [newspapers] and we lose a part of ourselves. We lose a part of what makes America--well, America. If you believe in our way of life, you believe in newspapers."

I believe he is right but I also believe that newspapers are going to have to reinvent themselves to weather this storm. Without the income provided by Classifieds Ads, (their bread and butter), they are floundering, but the trick may be to come up with something to replace those daily and weekly infusions of cash, even if that comes with advertising on line AND in the paper.

I also think that newspapers could reinvent themselves as a forum for what they were once known for: serious journalism. Not the ten second stories that grace the front pages thee days, but long, investigative or even thoughtful pieces that require lingering over an extra cup of coffee.

I'm holding out hope that newspapers will survive because I believe they have the ability to tell stories in ways that are worth remembering.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Animal Health is Big Business

In this difficult economy, it is interesting to note that the pet pharmaceutical busines seems to be holding its own. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, Eli Lilly & Co.'s Chief Executive Officer, John Lechletier, said he was monitoring the sale of rival Pfizer, Inc. to Wyeth, to see whether or not they would sell the animal-health business as a separate entity.

"You can bet, with our interest in growing our animal health business, we've got our eye on that," he said last week. Analysts say drug manufacturers are diversifying into the animal health market with heartworm drugs, feed additives and parasiticides, among other products. Since animal health drugs lack the tight regulation of the human market, they are able to turn a profit for their manufacturers more quickly than human drugs which are subject to lengthy review.

Lilly has it's own very profitable animal health division, which posted sales of $326.4 million for the quarter last Thursday. That figure is down 1% from last year, which is pretty good in today's economy.

Wyeth's animal health division had $1.09 billion in revenue in 2008, a 4% increase over the previous year. The only reason Pfizer might sell this profitable division in the takeover would be because of anti-trust issues.

The buzz seems to be that Lilly won't be able to afford the price tag for the entire division if it does come up for sale, but might be able to buy certain products, if Wyeth were to sell them off.

Evidence that animals continue to be big business in the U. S. and elsewhere.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Pickens Plan Takes Shape

Madeleine Pickens' plans to create a sanctuary for wild horses are coming together, according to a report on In New York City, last week, Picken's gave reporter Mike Di Paola an update on the project.

Between 8,000 to 10,000 wild mustangs will be transported by helicopter (I am assuming this means herded by helicopter) to an, as yet, undisclosed parcel of land, estimated to be about a million acres. Many of the horses would be neutered to help maintain the size of the herd at about 30,000.

Pickens is creating a foundation to assist in raising funds for this endeavor but the foundation is not yet named. She also envisions this sanctuary to be more than just a preserve for horses. Pickens envisions a non-profit, ecology themed destination resort with RVs, teepees and environmental education programs supporting the protection of wild mustangs. The main draw, however, is the opportunity to see mustangs in the wild.

"Imagine the Americans who have never seen the wild mustang," says Pickens who only experienced the thrill this past year from a helicopter over Nevada. "I can tell you it is absolutely life-changing."

Apparently the list of land parcels is down to three. Pickens is finding the bidding process to be challenging because once the owner finds out who is bidding, the price tends to go up. "A lot of people thought this was an energy company coming in, that there would be windmills and solar, all kinds of this and that," she remarks. "I had a lot of convincing to do."

The sanctuary will also be home to horses destined for the slaughterhouses, some of them retired racehorses. "I know that I will never say 'no' to a thoroughbred or a quarter horse. When we become a sanctuary, I'm sure we'll take in everybody," she says.

Plans call for the more domesticated animals to live in huge paddocks in a separate part of the sanctuary.

Ms. Pickens has set up a website where you can leave her a comment. It is expected that the story will continue to be updated as it unfolds.

Friday, February 6, 2009


There is nothing like soft,feathery snow as my dogs (Sammy and Amos, above) will attest!! We had an all day snowstorm a few days ago and they were true snow angels!


The divine Miss Phoebe

Thursday, February 5, 2009


The official measurement in our backyard--7 inches not in the drifts.

So just when I decide I want to pack up and move to northern California because I cannot take the extremes in temperature any more (above 80 and below 30, for example), we get THE perfect snowfall: soft, feathery and magnificent. The dogs are in heaven, the ice seems to have abated (at least for now) and I'm staying put.

Here are some shots from our trek through the park. You can see how happy they are!

This shot is actually from the backyard--hence the power lines. It looks like the classic Winter Wonderland.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Boom in Self-Publshing

Once again, the topic of self-publishing has made headlines, this time in both Time magazine and last week's New York Times. It seems that while traditional publishers are laying off employees by the score and narrowing their acquisitions to those penned by well-known figures, self-publishing is experiencing a mini-boom.

On one level, this news is hardly a revelation. It stands to reason that writers who are desperate to publish their books will resort to self-publishing as the entry to traditional publishing becomes more and more restricted. In addition, when print-on-demand options bring the price down, there really is no reason why they can't take matters into their own hands.

Which is what many of them have done with varying degrees of success. Of course, the success stories, like Lisa Genova's self-published novel, Still Alice, for which Simon & Shuster recently acquired the rights, are center stage and no one talks about the limited success of the majority of self-published works.

"For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there's two that should have been published," notes Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver who says she is constantly besieged by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. "People think that just because they have written about something, there's a market for it. It's not true."

And no one talks about the added expenses of doing self-publishing right--which involves the author hiring an editor and book designer to make it look like the "real" thing.

Actually what probably bothers me the most about the self-publishing hype is that in some ways in feels like another hoop for the unknown author to jump through. It would be horrible to think that in some ways success in the self-publishing world becomes a prerequisite for success in the traditional publishing world.

Even worse is that this concept somehow lets the big guns off the hook. "Try self publishing," you can hear the sales and marketing team at Random House telling would-be authors. "And if it sells, we'll take another look."

As I have said before, I truly believe there is value to self-publishing if the book you are writing is for a limited audience, say a family history or commemorative tome. But if you are trying to reach a larger audience, the work and expense, may not be worth it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Brandeis Art Collection to be Sold

Way back in 1998, I was sent on assignment to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. to cover the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. Aside from the deluge (and getting stuck at Logan airport), it was a memorable visit and I was impressed, not so much by the physical beauty of the campus (actually it is built on a hillside and only boasts one what I would call typical collegiate-like structure), but by its spirit and dedication to academic pursuits.

I tell you this because I was greatly disturbed to read in the New York Times that Brandeis is selling off the entire holdings of its Rose Art Museum to pay the bills. And bear with me here because there actually is a vague connection to the usual topics of this blog. Before it was Brandeis, the campus belonged to Middlesex University, a small, privately owned medical and veterinary school. Brandeis acquired its charter in 1945, along with its quirky, castle-type structure that is its central landmark.

Back to the future. The Trustees of the University made what its president calls "an agonizing decision" to sell off the collection because the school's endowment, once $700 million, has been significantly downsized. Jehuda Reinharz, the university's president (and who I met) put it this way: "Choosing between and among important and valued university assets is terrible; but our priority in the face of hard choices will always be the university's core teaching and research mission."

The Brandeis collection includes some 6,000 works--many significant examples of 20th century art--and is believed to be worth between $350 and $400 million. The problem is garnering that amount in the current economy is certain to be difficult, if not impossible.

Worse is the fact that the action sets a terrible precedent for other institutions. Many donors bequeath art to their alma maters presuming it will not only be safe but provide scholarly opportunities for students and faculty. The Massachusetts attorney general's office is reviewing the legalities of the sale but the university is going ahead with its plans to shut the museum in June and convert the space into a teaching center with a gallery and studio space.

"One fears that this opens a floodgate," commented David Alan Robertson, director of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. "And it's a detriment to all of our institutions."

Ironically I truly believe that desperate times call for more, not less, exposure to art in many forms. The power of art to inspire and lift us out of our doldrums, even for a few hours, cannot be overestimated.

I truly feel for the dire situation that Brandeis University finds itself in and hope that some angel steps forward to save its artistic soul.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Zoos Feel Financial Pinch

Animal shelters are not the only institutions feeling the pinch of the recent economic downturn. On Sunday, the New York Times reported on the cost-cutting measures that regional zoos are being forced to undertake.

Beardsley Zoo, in Fairfax Connecticut, has been forced to put its plans for a new exhibit with spider monkeys, jaguars and anteaters on hold and recently laid off three employees, which is actually more than 10 percent of its small staff. "It's a very anxious time for us," said Gregg, Dancho, director of the zoo.

Even larger zoos are feeling the pinch. The New York Zoos, Botanical Gardens,and Aquarium Program has lost $5 million from its annual state grant, a fact that will trickle down to all programs sponsored by all three institutions.

Zoos are interesting institutions. There is a part of me that respects the conservation and breeding work that inspires many institutions; there is an equal part that believes animals should not be kept behind bars. But the bottom line is, once they are, they need to be fed and cared for, all of which requires money.

"We're not a museum, so you can't just close down a wing," explains Jonathan Meigs, director of the Trevor Zoo, on the campus of the Millbrook School, also in Conn. Ideally in this climate of downsizing, one would like to see some consolidation on the part of zoos which theoretically perhaps means that the strongest will survive. The problem may be that those which are the strongest financially may not be the best environments for the animals.

Six Flags Great Adventure, in Jackson, New Jersey, which hosts a seasonal drive-through Safari Park on 1,200 acres, is projecting a booming summer business as people look for amusement closer to home. Personally I do not believe lions, tigers and other animals typically seen on an African safari, should spend the summer in New Jersey, but then again it might be worse to have to confine those creatures in zoo exhibits if the drive-through safari loses its appeal.

You might want to see how your local zoos are faring in these tough times and consider sharing your time, talents or even a few spare dollars with them. The bottom line is that once we are any animal's keeper, we hold that role for their lifetime, in good and bad economic times.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Barbaro Satue To Be Unveiled

A week before this year's Kentucky Derby, Barbaro will be honored when a statue of him in full stride, will be unveiled at Churchill Downs. The Jacksons made the announcement on the second anniversary of Barbaro's death.

The statue, by sculptor Alexa King, depicts Barbaro with Edgar Prado aboard, pulling away from the field at the sight of his greatest triumph. It is believed that some of Barbaro's ashes will be interred in the base of the statue.

The unveiling and dedication will take place on April 26. Churchill Downs opens for racing on the 25th.

It is surely no coincidence that the dedication date was announced on the second anniversary of Barbaro's passing. The Jacksons also published a letter in the Thoroughbred Daily News on the same day, noting the occasion, and acknowledging the work of the Fans of Barbaro that continues to this day. "We want to say thank you to all involved and encourage you to keep Barbaro's legacy strong and flourishing," they wrote.

Once again, I continue to be amazed at the longevity of the Barbaro story, all due to the love and loyalty of his fans who keep his memory and his legacy alive.