Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tripping the Light Fantastic

Back in the day when I way visiting my foot doctor fairly regularly to be treated for my foot pain, I spent quite a bit of time in his office waiting for various treatments. I remember sitting next to a lady who had broken her foot and was hoping that acupuncture would speed her recovery. It seems she was booked on a cruise and intended to participate in the shore excursions. I asked her how she had injured herself and she looked kind of sheepish. "I tripped over my dog," she said. "I feel so stupid."

Well, according to the CDC (yes, you read that right!), she is far from alone. A new report finds that between the years 2001-2006, an average of 86,629 fall injuries per year were associated with cats and dogs, resulting in an average annual injury rate of 29.7 per 100,000 people. Of these, nearly 88% were associated with dogs and females were 2.1 times more likely to be injured than males. And injuries were most frequent among persons aged 1-14 years and 35-54 years.

The most common injuries were contusions and fractures and the majority of falls occurred in or around the home. 26% of falls with dogs happened while persons were walking them (count me among that group) and the most frequent circumstances were tripping over a dog. Falling over a pet item accounted for 8.8% of the falls.

The moral of all this research? People fall over their dogs all the time--probably more than we like to admit. I personally find little dogs under my feet to be a huge nuisance, but I will admit that my big ones seem to plop themselves in the most inopportune place--usually as close as they can get to anything related to food--and I do find myself climbing over them, often with hot things in my hands.

Still, in 2006, cats and dogs accounted for approximately 1% of the 8 million fall injuries treated in Emergency Departments so depending on your point of view, the risk is either worth it, or not. Personally, I think the opportunity to let my dogs run off leash has probably saved me from being part of that statistic. Knock on wood, as they say.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pickens Joins Forces with HSUS

I've been waiting to see what Madeleine Pickens' next move would be with regard to her rebuff by the Bureau of Land Management to set up her mustang sanctuary on some of their land. Well she is mounting an intensive grass-roots campaign via her website and she has enlisted some powerful allies, namely the Humane Society of the United States.

In a recent post, Wayne Pacelle, outlines the situation as it now stands. Pacelle and Pickens are lobbying aggressively in support of H.R. 1018, the Restoring Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act, that would ban the slaughter of wild horses and burros, reopen millions of acres to horses, implement contraceptive programs as an alternative to round-ups and restore the mustangs and wild burros to their rightful homes.

The ROAM Bill would effectively end the BLM's argument that the horses cannot roam freely on the land Pickens has in mind for her sanctuary because those acres were not part of the original package of grounds set aside for horses. It also opens the door for Pickens to implement her strategy of saving the government millions of dollars by sheltering the mustangs on this ground, for which the government would pay her a stipend. This stipend, she claims, is a fraction of what the government currently spends on controlling the size of the herd.

I am sure the entire success of this plan rests on the viability of those numbers, but I am also sure that it is hard to ignore the HSUS lobby. They are very effective in getting things done in the name of animal welfare but all of these things take time.

Still, right now, there is no new Director of the Bureau of Land Management and I have a feeling it is fairly low on the president's current agenda. Which is not to say that change won't happen--only that it won't come overnight.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hippo Up For Adoption

Here's a tidbit from Switzerland, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, that should give you a glimpse of where we are, as a planet, with regard to animal welfare issues.

There is a new baby hippo at the Basel Zoo that is its star attraction. Named Farasi, which means horse in Swahili, the babe may not be long for this world, however. Because the zoo can only accommodate one male hippo, if the Swiss zookeepers can't find another home for Farasi, they must euthanize him.

As you can well imagine this predicament has created quite an uproar. It seems that European zoos do not believe in birth control--American zoos do. And so, when one too many of a given species comes into existence, if it cannot be relocated, it is often euthanized and its remains fed to the other animals.

There is a Save Farasi group on Facebook with over 15,000 members that is lobbying to save the hippo. Animal rights groups are petitioning the zoo to send the hippo to Africa. A circus has even offered Farasi a starring role. No dice, says the zoo. Farasi needs a properly accredited zoo where they can care for him and he can be the only male in a herd.

It's not an easy task to find a home for a male hippo. Hippos usually live to be in their 50s so another one would have to kick the bucket. Apparently Farasi had a sister, Heidi, who eventually found a home at the Dublin Zoo only after one of their hippos choked on a tennis ball thrown into its pen by a visitor.

The obvious solution seems to be to limit reproduction but European Zoos feel that pregnancy and parenting are fundamental needs. Farasi would never have been born in the US, unless he had a home.

In the meantime, zoo officials have some time to place Farasi. His father will not turn on him until sometime between the ages of one to four. Here's hoping they have success in relocating the babe. In the meantime, you can see for yourself how cute he is.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sniffing Out Drugs

A high school in New York is using drug-sniffing dogs to actually deter drug use among its students, according to this NY Times article. Sachem High School North, on Long Island, reports success with its program but other high schools find the presence of drug-sniffing dogs to be "frightening."

Andy Henelin, President of Dogs by Andy, trains some of the dogs that sniff for contraband in high schools hallways. He demonstrates their effectiveness by "planting" a synthetic bag of cocaine inside a student's backpack and letting the dog find it. "We want the students to know that if they go up against the dogs, they lose," he explained.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union sees it differently. She finds the presence of drug-sniffing dogs in high schools to be "incompatible with nurturing environments that are supposed to be conducive to adolescent education."

You can't argue with success, however. Since the dogs have sniffed out Sachem High School, no narcotics have been found. Previously, about one student was caught with marijuana every month.

Drug sniffing dogs are increasingly being used in schools in New Jersey and Connecticut, where the success rate is also impressive. While no dog is 100% effective, the best ones are accurate between 85-90% of the time.

If the goal is to eliminate the presence of drugs in school, drug-sniffing dogs are probably not a bad way to go. The visits are random, they don't interfere with education and the dogs never sniff kids, just lockers, parking lots and other common areas.

If however, the goal is to eliminate the use of drugs by high school students, then the presence of drug-sniffing dogs in schools simply moves these activities to other locations. My experience has always been that the ones who get caught with drugs on campus are actually crying out for help and, on some level, want to be discovered.

What do you think?

Friday, March 27, 2009

How The Seabicuit Stamp Came to Be

Some of you may remember that I posted a blog about the new Seabiscuit stamp, due to be issued on May 11. Well, a faithful reader updated me on how the stamp came to be. I think you will find her story inspiring.

How the Seabiscuit Stamp Came To Be
By Maggie Van Ostrand

On May 11th, a 44-cent rate-change stamp featuring the great racehorse, Seabiscuit, will be issued by the U.S. Postal Service. This stamp, and a pre-stamped Seabiscuit envelope, is significant for one huge reason: We the people did it! It took us eight long years, but we did it. It’s easy to think that we don’t have power in Washington but, when there are enough of us, we can do anything.

In 2001, when Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, was published, millions of readers were inspired by the true story of “an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit,” who beat all odds back in the Thirties and became an American cultural icon.

Impassioned by the book, I took a guided tour of the Biscuit’s home, Ridgewood Ranch, in Northern California, and saw his still-standing barn, weighing shed, and corral. During an old family film of his greatest races and his life at the Ranch, I spoke with another tourist, a man from New Orleans. Over time and telephone, we became friends and he came up with the idea of trying to get Seabiscuit on a California coin. His idea evolved honoring this great horse on a U.S. stamp.

Fat chance, right? We had no money, no lobbyists, and no Washington connections. We had only passion and a belief that the word “No” meant “Try again.”

We learned about the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, the primary goal of which is to select subjects of “broad national interest for recommendation to the Postmaster General that are both interesting and educational.” To give you an idea of the odds we were up against, only 25 subjects are selected each year out of thousands of submissions. And only one other horse in history (Secretariat) had ever been so honored.

Undaunted, we started a grassroots movement, beginning with local book clubs, then book clubs nationwide. Their members not only signed our petition to the Committee, they circulated it to all their friends, who sent it to everyone they knew. We put the petition on the internet so it could be printed and mailed by anyone interested. We trolled the streets for signatures, promoted the idea on a sports news TV, haunted Santa Anita for signatures, returned to Willits CA (home of Ridgewood Ranch) for the premiere of the movie, Seabiscuit. We did everything we could think of and then some. Thousands of people pitched in, like an Arkansas soybean farmer, a Louisiana pharmacist, a Kentucky woman who cans hams for Hormel, a Massachusetts landscape designer; racetrack people; book lovers everywhere; and many from right here in our own mountain communities.

Yes, there were times of discouragement, disillusionment, and distress, but we never gave up. If Seabiscuit himself never gave up when faced with insurmountable odds, how could we? If his fierce determination to win got him to the finish line to inspire America in the throes of the Great Depression, we had to match that determination.

We may not be able to see the Biscuit run again at Santa Anita, but we can all share in his heritage of beating the odds and achieving our goal.

When you hold the Seabiscuit stamp in your hand, remember: together, we the people can do anything.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Life After 50

Savvy students know about the power of the internship. It is an unpaid way to get your foot in the door of a company and learn whether or not you like it and they like you. Along the way, you pick up skills, network with some high powered executives and pretty much leave yourself open to whatever comes your way.

In this job market, it turns out that students are not the only ones interning. As MSNBC reported last week, some middle aged freelance writers are interning at a web start up to gain cutting edge computer skills. The employer is wowOwow, which stands for women on the web, a web site targeted to women over 40 started by such heavy hitters as Peggy Noonan, Lesley Stahl and Liz Smith. And two of their interns are fifty somethings Ann Hodgman, a freelance writer in a dry spell, and Lois Draegin, a former editor at TV Guide who is unemployed.

You can read what they told Today show host, David Gregory, here, but suffice it to say that these two women are making the most of their situations, including learning new computer skills taught to them by an intern supervisor who is 24--the same age as Hodgman's daughter.

I'm all for learning new skills regardless of your age (who says you can't get a Master's Degree after 50?!) but I find it hard to believe that these women in the media field were not up to speed with computer skills. Come on? How did this freelance writer do her research and how did the editor edit? They had to know the basics, and frequently all you need is a refresher course now and then at your handy Mac store (usually free) and the world is your oyster.

No, I think they are doing what every other enterprising student who lands an internship does: trying to parlay it into a full time job, or at the very least a great freelance article. Smart. Savvy. And incredibly good publicity for their employer as well as themselves.

I leave you with words of advice from Marci Alboher, a writer who focuses on career and workplace trends: "You have to take the initiative and pitch this to someone because often [the position] doesn't exist." But if an employer is presented with the opportunity to hired a seasoned professional for free, who wouldn't jump a the chance?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Barbaro Forever!

April 26 is shaping up to be quite a day at Churchill Downs, especially for those loyal Fans of Barbaro. First there is the dedication of the Barbaro Memorial sculpture into which some of his ashes will be placed and then, there is the opening of a new exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum entitled Barbaro: The Heart of a Winner.

According to the Kentucky Derby Museum, which is on the grounds of Churchill Downs, right outside the gates, the exhibit will offer a multi-dimensional view of Barbaro as a champion athlete and fighter. It will feature his racing accomplishments, his connection with his fans, his struggle to overcome injury and how he inspired others.

Racing memorabilia includes the 2006 Kentucky Derby silks, the saddle Edgar Prado used, fan mail and scrap books. There will also be the opportunity for guests to record their thoughts in a video booth, which will be uploaded to youtube.

I know many FOBs are planning on making the journey and I may join them, although I wasn't planning on doing so. It all depends on the state of my thesis, which is due two days later. After reading this, it sounds like I should be submitting it to the Kentucky Derby Museum as an artifact!!!

At the very least, it gives me a nice ending that illustrates the fact the the legend of Barbaro is still very much alive, nearly three years after he won the Kentucky Derby. What a remarkable story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sit & Stay Cafe

I seem to remember an old Seinfeld (or perhaps it was Letterman?) routine in which he lampooned the notion of selling bottled water as a "diet" drink. This was before the days of "0 Calories!!" on bottled water and it may have even been before bottled water became such a trendy commodity. It does seem ludicrous when you think about it in the abstract, but then again, it shows how gullible we are when it comes to diet anything.

In any event, I thought about this when I read that a local pet supply store had opened a new "Sit & Stay Cafe" for pets and their owners that featured only water!!! No Joke. The allure of this "cafe" is simply the opportunity to sit and stay while enjoying the shopping experience at the store. The only amenities are a few tables and chairs (the folding variety), bottled water for the owners and bowls of water (at two different levels) for the pets.

I wish I could link you to the article that comes complete with photos of pet owners "sitting and staying" but the neighborhood paper only posts some stories on line. This clearly did not rank with impending zoning hearings or property tax hike, but it did rate enough to cover half a page (with color photos) in the News section!!!

According to the owners of the business, the idea "was to keep it as simple as possible," and just make it a gathering place for people who shop with their pets. Great idea. But don't go to the trouble of sponsoring a Grand Opening for tables and chairs--complete with PR firm sending out "invites" to privileged customers.

And please, do not call it a cafe. That would be akin to department stores labeling the chairs or benches that are scattered near the dressing rooms for shopping companions to wait for those who are trying on clothes, "Customer Cafes." Come on.

If the water only offering is a nod to the new sense of austerity, great. But don't blow it by tooting your own horn over a space that should always have been there.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Milk, Cheerios and Your Story

If any of you are aspiring children's authors, Cheerios has recently announced an intriguing contest. Called Spoonfuls of Stories, the contest is for new authors (I am not eligible or I would enter) who are encouraged to write an original story for a book for children ages 3 to 8.

The winning author (Grand Prize winner) gets $5000 and their submitted to a reputable childrens book publishing company for possible future publication. There are also two $1000 "first prizes." The stories of all prize winners will appear on www.spoonfulsof stories.com, which you know they will be touting on their Cheerios boxes.

Sounds like a fabulous opportunity to break into a very difficult field. If you think breaking into publishing in general is hard, you should try children's books--nearly impossible!

The key here is that the entries MUST be ORIGINAL, i. e. never before published. The story must be 500 words or less and submitted between March 16, 2009 and July 15, 2009. Check out the official entry form here.

And good luck!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Signs of the Times

"HELP WANTED - Must be a speed typist and have computer skills. Successful applicant must be bilingual.

We are an Equal Opportunity Employer.."

A short time later a German Shorthaired Retriever dog trotted up to the window, saw the sign and went inside. He looked at the receptionist, wagged his tail, then walked over to the sign, looked at it, whined and pawed the air.

The receptionist called the office manager. He was surprised to see a canine applicant but as the dog looked determined he was shown into the manager's office. Inside, the dog jumped up on a chair and stared at the manager expectantly.

The manager said, "I can't hire you. The sign says you must be able to type."

The dog went to the typewriter and proceeded to quickly type a perfect business letter. He took out the page and trotted over to the manager, gave it to him, then jumped back up on the chair. The manager was stunned, but told the dog, "That was fantastic, but I'm sorry. The sign clearly says that whoever I hire has to be good with a computer."

The dog went to the computer and proceeded to demonstrate his' expertise with various programs, produced a sample spreadsheet and database, and then presented them to the manager.

The manager was dumbfounded! He said to the dog, "Look, I realize that you are a very intelligent applicant and have fantastic talent, but you're a dog. No way could I hire you."

The dog jumped down and went to the sign in the window and pointed his paw at the words, "Equal Opportunity Employer."

The exasperated manager said, "Yes, I know what the darn sign says.
But the sign also says you have to be bilingual."

The dog looked him straight in the eye and said, "Meow."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rabies Outbreak in Angola

So our adventures in the newly created dog park in my neck of the woods have proved to be well worth all the hassle of getting licenses and shots for my dogs. Though they will only issue me two off leash permits, I have solved that problem by keeping Amos on leash most of the time since he rarely wanders anyway. All is well and my battle with City Hall was actually rather mild in the end. They even were going to waive my need to get kennel cough shots for my non-boarding animals but in the end I ended up vaccinating them anyway.

Which brings me to a startling article in the New York Times about a rabies outbreak in Angola that has killed 93 children to date. I think we in the U.S. forget that rabies is a lethal disease because we have become so good at preventing it.

The outbreak occurred in Luanda, the capital of Angola, and is blamed on roaming packs of dogs that frequent the very prevalent slums of the city. Officials actually believe that deaths from rabies are actually much higher than reported since that figure was based on one hospital.

In a country that is very poor, vaccinations for dogs as well as humans are almost non-existent. Part may be due to a shortage of human rabies vaccine since one of the Sanofi Pasteur factories where it is produced is under renovation. Part may simply be due to lack of money. It costs about $50 per person for the human rabies vaccine.

As for the dogs, well reports have been contradictory. Some say that dogs were rounded up, vaccinated and then released once they were found to be rabies free. The problem is that the true test for rabies is based on a brain sample that can only be obtained after the animal has died.

Many years ago, we had a dog who was bitten by a raccoon. When they sent the raccoon brain ample away, it was found to be "inconclusive" for rabies. My super cautious vet advised that we quarantine our vaccinated dog for about a month, which we did since we had small children at the time. All I can remember her saying was that we did not want to subject our children to such a horrible disease. Everything worked out fine in the end--the dog was none the worse for the quarantine and he was perfectly healthy, thanks to the vaccine.

Was it overkill? Maybe. But when I hear about 93 children dying from what she told me I never wanted to see, my heart skips a beat. What a tragedy on all levels.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Future of the Fourth Estate

Michael Smerconish, a lawyer turned radio talk show host, whose political views are usually not my own, has an interesting take on why newspapers are necessary in this day and age of electronic reporting. According to Smerconish, without the work of investigative reporters, many of the sins of corruption that transpire in our public leaders as well as our corporate ones, would go undetected.

Think Woodward and Bernstein who broke the Watergate story. In Philadelphia we can look no further than the current investigation into State Senator Vince Fumo that was broken by several crackerjack newspaper reporters. Think 60 Minutes for heavens sake--many of their stories begin with something they read in the papers.

Who, asks Smerconish, is going to hold our leaders accountable if nobody holds a mirror up to their faces and asks the hard questions? "The survival of the historic watchdog role of the Fourth Estate is on the line," he writes.

All of which is valid and true, but I think Smerconish may be missing the point. He may get his news from the paper but it is also available on the internet. Just because paper newspapers may go away does not mean that reporting skills are becoming an endangered species. In fact, if anything with the presence of blogs and chat rooms and yes even Twitter, reporting is everywhere by everyone. True, journalistic scoops take time: sources have to be verified and facts checked, but reporting is not going to go away. It is just going to look different.

I am just as sad as the next guy about the demise of newspapers. I truly do believe that as a sociological phenomenon, what we write down in print for public consumption is a fascinating picture of who and what we are at any given time (not just news but ads, photos, even captions) but having just spent weeks perusing the online archives of major newspapers for stories about Secretariat and Seabiscuit, I can assure you that the news survives as an electronic archive. It is just more specialized. You can read all you want about Seabiscuit but you won't see the ad for ladies shoes that might have shared the same page unless you go hunt down the microfiche.

I do think we need the fourth estate to watch everything we do, but I'm not convinced that they are going away.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Taming Wild Mustangs

More proof about the power of horses to "heal" comes from this article about a program called the Wild Horse Inmate Program at Colorado state prison. Prison inmates learn to be trainers for wild mustangs which are prepared for private adoption, including use by the U. S. Border Patrol.

"This program has taught me patience, perseverance," says John Peterson, a convicted burglar who has spent about 23 of his 44 years serving time. It takes Peterson about four months to "train" a wild mustang and he has spent five years training them. He is up for parole next month and plans to get a job training horses when he gets out.

The inmates start slowly: cleaning stalls and trimming hooves. They work their way up to training horses and learn to take it very slowly. "We put a lot of work and training into these horses. Gentle them and show them that there's a different way than they are used to out there on the range, fighting for their food and everything," Peterson explains.

According to Brian Hardin, the program's supervisor for the Colorado Department of Correction, the recidivism rate for horse trainers is half the national rate of 68%. "The animal takes the place of the family unit while they're locked up," he explains.

Demand for the saddle-broken wild mustangs is reputably high, especially by the U. S. Border Patrol, who prefers their quiet ways. "You can use them at night. They're quiet and don't have motors," commented Fran Ackley, the Bureau of Land Management's wild horse and burro specialist.

All of which sounds a bit like the BLM is touting its own horn, trying to drum up some positive press for its ability to manage its herds, which we were previously led to believe are overrunning the plains with too many "adoptable" mustangs languishing in corrals after being rounded up.

I won't and can't dispute the ability of horses to tame prison inmates; many other prisons report similar successful programs, nor can I refute the appeal of training inmates for a profession, but I wonder if the BLM just gave the wild horses to Madeleine Pickens if any of this would be necessary.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mushing in Montana

My sister tried dog-sledding years ago when she visited Calgary and reported that it was a disappointment. The dogs bark a lot, seem semi-wild and apparently are a bit flatulent as they pull you through the snow. She was not enamored.

However, the report in a recent New York Times is more positive. The reporter, Greg Breining, signed on with Jason Matthews, owner of Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures in Immigrant, Montana. According to Breining, "Dog sledding is an exhilarating and nostalgic way to travel through wild country--quieter than snowmobiles, faster than skis or snowshoes."

As he and his fellow travelers traversed sections of Yellowstone, they learned the art of controlling a sled pulled by Alaskan huskies, a breed, according to Matthews that is bred to run fast and last forever. The dogs did not disappoint. "Anything that can run 150 miles in a single day, nine days in a row and just live on raw meat and water is pretty impressive," Matthews notes. "Running dogs isn't hard. Stopping dogs is hard."

According to Breining, who found himself upside down a snowbank at one point, this is most definitely true. These dogs run fast, hard and never seemed to get tired, except when the snow was very deep and the altitude very high. At that point, they all took turns stepping off and pushing the sled to help the dogs progress.

It seems that solitude is one of the big lures of this past time--solitude, silence (except for barking) and the opportunity to see nature, like a herd of elk, up close and personal.

The final verdict: "I enjoyed every bit of it, but it was more work than I anticipated." Still sounds like something I might like to try one day.

What about you?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let the People Decide!

There was an interesting post in the blogger section of USA Today the other day about a new publishing model that is intriguing. The concept, believe it or not, is based on American Idol, and the premise behind it is to let the readers decide what is "publishable."

Apparently one stay-at-home mom came up with a concept for a children's book that was about a young character named Marley Barley who was coaxed into trying new foods because her parents let her get her clothes dirty. She wrote it, sent it off to lots of publishers and you can guess the ending. A stack full of rejection letters--not because the concept wasn't good but because she wasn't Madonna or Joy Behar or anyone of the stars who write children's books.

Enter WEBook, a web site that permits you to upload your book, or concept or work in progress, and let the readers decide if it merits publication. Apparently Marley Barley hit a home run with the readership and WEBooks found an illustrator and published her book. No advance but the author collects royalties just like any other author. Not a bad idea.

Regular readers of this blog know that the current publishing business model is based on the celebrity blockbuster book--the one being written by Chesley Sullenberger who landed the plane in the Hudson, for example, for which he earned a $2.5 million advance. But that doesn't mean that everyone wants to read what the pilot has to say (and truthfully what more can he say other than I landed the plane?) or that there isn't another model that is just as viable.

According to WEBook President Sue Heilbronner, there is a wide level of talent floating around on the website, but so far, "We have found that the community does actually have a pretty good way of finding decent work on the site and gravitating toward it." Plus if they do find your work and publish it, that story alone makes for great publicity.

And here's the best part: "Top vote-getters have enough fans that WEbook bets they'll make money, not unlike the rash of originally-written-for-cellphone novels sweeping Japan's best-seller lists."

I don't like to think that publishing a book can turn into a popularity contest--beleive me if there is a way to stack votes, writers will find it--but it truly is a fascinating idea, and one that appeals to me in a lot of ways. I have been saying for a long time that publishers should not have the final say over the editorial preferences of an entire nation. What if we don't want to read yet another celebrity tome? When the entire celebrity lifestyle comes crashing down along with the rest of the world's. I have a feeling that lifestyles of the rich and famous is going to be considered overindulgent, rather than desirable.

So go check it out and I'll let you know when I need you to vote!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Soloist

We, here in Philadelphia, have been reading The Soloist by Steve Lopez as part of the One Book, One Philadelphia project. I just finished it and heartily recommend it, before you see the movie of the same name.

The story is simple. A newspaper columnist (Lopez, who used to work in Philadelphia by the way) spots a homeless man on a street corner in Los Angeles playing the violin in a manner more suitable to a Julliard graduate than to a street person. After some poking around, it turns out that the street artist, one Nathaniel Ayers, did indeed go to Julliard and is, a gifted musician. Or at least was, until schizophrenia side-tracked him and he landed on the streets of L.A., by choice.

It is a story about the columnist who discovers Ayers, as much as it is about Ayers and how he fell from grace. It is also a story about the dismal way in which L.A. treats its mentally ill residents and how Lopez and his colleagues bring their plight to the attention of the mayor and actually get things to change, at least a little.

It is a story about friendship and about saving a life and about how the one doing the saving often reaps more than the one who is saved. And it is a story about patience and how mental illness does not follow a linear progression.

I loved it for obvious reasons--the kinship with the author being the main one--and how he weaves his own story of redemption in with the story of Ayers. I was intrigued by his structure and how he told the story and I think you will find it a good read. It will be a feel-good movie.

One small tidbit about Beethoven's third, Eroica. I never knew it was originally composed for Napoleon as an ode to his heroism until he too feel from grace in Beethoven's opinion. So it simply became Eroica, which means Heroism, an ode to all heroes.

I'd like to think my equine heroes like the piece as well...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peter Singer's New Manifesto

Peter Singer is back with a new cause. For those of you who don't know Singer, he is considered one of the founders of the animal rights movement. His pivotal book, Animal Liberation, is nothing short of a manifesto on how we should treat animals.

His new cause is poverty and he has written a new book about it, The Life You Can Save. In typical Singer style, he manages to make us feel uncomfortable for not eradicating poverty no matter where it exists in the world. Forget the recession/depression. The fact that somewhere, some child is starving is of more relevance to Singer than the ups and downs of the stock market.

We all hold the key to ending that starvation, according to Singer, and we all have the responsibility to turn that key.

Singer has a gift for making very complicated situations simple and the logic of the fact that poverty is bad, followed by the premise that if we have the power to do something about it, we too are bad, is pretty irrefutable. He has even established a website for those who want to change the situation.

I remember reading one of Singer's arguments in a bioethics class and it runs into the problem, at least for me, of bordering on the extreme, if taken to its logical conclusion. It was his argument for the basic "elimination" of those with severe disabilities. When confronted with a living and breathing warrior for the disabled, in the personna of a college professor who is herself severely disabled and living a noble, if yet difficult life, Singer's argument, to me, falls flat on his face.

Likewise I have some disagreement with his premise that "philanthropy for the arts or for cultural activities is, in a world like this one, morally dubious." Truthfully, if you have the wherewithal to make a significant contribution to the world and you want to build a museum to do it, who is to say that that is not your perrogative? I do believe in the redemptive power of art (I have seen it happen in the form of the Philadelphia Mural Arts program) so I am not willing to throw away all that Singer might find culturally dubious.

However, I do agree that there are priorities and if the eradication of poverty is one of yours, I encourage you to join his crusade. If you'd rather write a symphony, who am I to tell you otherwise?

What I'd really like to know, however, is where do animals fit into this grand scheme of his?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Old Fashioned Statement?

I'm just as much of a sucker for a great story as the next guy and racing has a great ones in the works. Old Fashioned, trained by Larry Jones is a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby going into today's Rebel Stakes and it would be something out of a storybook if the tale continued.

Larry Jones, you might remember, is the trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles, who lost her life after coming in second during last year's Derby. How sweet would it be if the horse who has kept Jones going, had a great run this year?

Old Fashioned has swept away the competition in his first four starts and is undefeated going into today's race. Jones has another Derby hopeful in Friesan Fire who is running in today's Louisiana Derby.

Lest you worry that Jones can't be in two places at the same time, be assured that his wife Cindy is handling the saddling duties at Oaklawn, where the Rebel is run and he will be at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Anyway you look at it, redemption could be on the horizon for Jones, who is also retiring at the end of this racing season. I just think that Old Fashioned has a nice ring to it given our current state of world affairs.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Throwing Stones

There is a story that is making the rounds in lots of newspapers about a chimpanzee in the Furvik Zoo on the Baltic coast of Sweden. The gist of the story is that Santino, a 30 year old male chimpanzee, has been hurling rocks at his visitors for the past eleven years.

Scientists find his behavior to be a clear-cut example of chimp's ability to plan for future events--one of the behaviors that was previously thought to separate chimps from humans. "Not instinctive behavior like a squirrel burying nuts, but planning that shows the animal is considering what its mental state will be at a later time," is how the New York Times phrases it.

It seems that Santino spends time in the early morning, before the zoo opens, gathering the stones he uses for his attacks and stockpiling them in a corner of his habitat. Then, when visitors appear later in the day, he hurls these stones in their direction. Apparently chimps are notoriously bad throwers and aimers so no one has been hurt.

Even when zoo workers removed stones from his habitat, Santino would break pieces of concrete off the walls, tear them into chunks, and hurl them at visitors.

What amazes me about the report of this behavior is the fact that scientists are overjoyed at the fact that they have discovered chimps can plan ahead, especially outside of laboratory settings. "Most primatologists would say, 'Of course they plan for future needs, they do lots of things far in advance,'" notes Mathias Osvath of Lund University, who writes about Santino in the current issue of Current Biology. "But it's very hard to prove."

I'm just as thrilled as the next guy to learn that chimps can indeed plan ahead but I am more concerned about the fact that Santino is hurling rocks at visitors. Do you think this might mean that he is BORED? or perhaps doesn't like his HUMAN CAPTORS? or is sick of BEING LOOKED AT all day long?

Why hasn't anyone addressed the roots of his behavior rather than wax poetic about what it means? If I ran the zoo, Santino might have other means of occupying his time--maybe a little hide and seek with food in his habitat or something else to challenge his mental abilities.

Better yet, I might even let him out of that cage.....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Monkeying Around

So I am plugging along on the thesis and have come to some interesting conclusions. Yes, I actually wrote the end the other day, without actually meaning to do so, which is interesting. I have never done that before but in some ways, it is making my job at the moment a little easier. Since I know where I am going, I simply have to backup and get there. But there is also a part of me that is saying, "Whew...glad that's over with..."

Anyway, one of the conclusions that I have come to has to do with our bifurcated allegiance to animals: the co-dependency situation that we find ourselves in that ties nicely into the wild/tame, domesticated/free quandry we often find ourselves in. Should horses be allowed to roam free or should we tame them so we can sit on their backs? And once we domesticate them, how much is too much?

It seems that chimpanzees are a species that has actually been exposed to too much over-domestication, to the point where the government, yes, you heard that right, has built retirement homes for chimps! No joke. I heard the story on NPR the other day.

It seems that chimpanzees are the only animal species that we are not permitted to euthanize. I think it has to do with the fact that they are so closely related to humans, but it also brings up the obvious question of what to do with all those chimps that have been "retired" from service to us, as lab animals or as actors or circus acts?

Enter the government, which has built a place called Chimp Haven, outside of Shreeveport, LA, that, from all reports, is actually what its name suggests. It sounds like a halfway home between the wild and the tame. Part of the idea is to co-mingle the chimps that have been raised in the wild with those that have not, so that the domesticated chimps learn what it is to be a "real" chimp, which from all accounts seems to happen. And yet, since these chimps have all spent most of their lives living in close contact with humans, the other idea is to let them spend part of their time, enjoying the "good" life to which they have been accustomed.

So they may do a little faux hunting and gathering in the morning (the keepers "hide" food) and then come in for some afternoon television sessions or naps. They all report for the three square meals they have been accustomed to all their captive lives and since most of them have spent a lot of time in the presence of white-coated medical personnel, their favorite television show is General Hospital!

The combo wild/tame existence is a perfect example of exactly where we, as humans, are (at least in my opinion) in our relationship to animals in general. There is part of us that wants them to roam free; and then there is a part of us that wants them to be our companions.

The good news is that Chimp Haven seems to have gotten the mix exactly right so the chimps who are retired there live long and happy lives. And the very fact that the government feels obligated to build retirement homes for chimps in the first place, tells you how we feel about animals these days...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sign of Things To Come?

Magna Entertainment Corp., which operates Pimlico racetrack among other ventures, has filed for bankruptcy according to the Associated Press. Apparently, the company has been unable to obtain new financing while supporting its existing debt.

The company is based in Aurora, Ontario and owns race tracks around the country, including the Palm Meadows Training Center, where Michael Matz makes his winter headquarters. Business is to continue as usual at all Magna-owned operations while this restructuring is taking place.

Apparently there is some kind of in-house deal in the works. It seems as if the real- estate arm of Magna, MI Developments, is going to buy some of the racetrack company's assets, thereby reducing its own debt. According to the AP report, Magna Entertainment has between $500 million and $1 billion in liabilities and more than $1 billion in assets.

MI Developments said it would offer Magna a six month loan so that business can continue while the details are being worked out. That six months conveniently covers the Preakness so, on the surface, nothing will have changed for this year's Triple Crown.

Two things comes to mind. The first is how very much tracks like Pimlico and Churchill Downs are totally dependent on about one week of racing a year to make enough money to remain in existence. And the second, of course, is how very fragile that existence is. Economic woes notwithstanding, thousands will converge on the Derby and the Preakness as they always have. But clearly, staying alive, in between Triple Crown events is becoming more and more precarious.

As I've said before, this would be a great time for a racing hero to emerge from the pack on the first Saturday in May.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spotlight on Safety

The Kentucky Derby is less than two months away and while we still have remnants of snow from our March 1 blizzard, there are also little shoots beginning to peep through the ground in the patches where the snow has melted. All of which means, that Spring will, indeed, make an appearance in the not too distant future.

The powers that be at Churchill Downs are way ahead of us in terms of gearing up for their annual rite of Spring. Last week, they announced a major overhaul of safety requirements for all of their races, in hopes of averting a another major disaster, a la Eight Belles.

These safety requirements will be in place for the Derby this year and include a laundry list of precautions like the following:

--Using a robotic hoof to test the dirt track for safety
--Testing all winning horses for approximately fifty more illegal drugs than are currently being tested for
--Banning the use of high-impact riding crops, along with limited whipping procedures
--Ensuring that starting gates have a minimum of 3.8 inch of foam padding
--Limiting the length of front toe grabs

In addition the track has pledged to conduct full autopsies of any horse that dies as a result of training or racing injures and standardize the reporting of these injuries to the Equine Database System.

Let's face it, racing cannot withstand another disaster, especially one on national television, so here's hoping these precautions are enforced. Of course, limiting the number of horses who are entered in the race seems to me to be the most obvious way to limit the disaster that I always envision when that cavalry charge occurs at the start, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

In the meantime, here's to safer racing everywhere, not just at Churchill Downs.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pickens v. Bureau of Land Management

I knew something was up when I read that the Bureau of Land Management found "flaws" in Madeleine Pickens' plan to create a sanctuary for wild mustangs using 1 million of their acres. Shortly after I read that, I received an email from Madeleine Pickens' people saying that she was going to Washington to testify before a House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on the importance of H. R. 1018, the Roam Act.

Clearly they were not seeing eye to eye on something and most likely, I surmised, it had to do with money. Close. In this case it is both land and money.

In her testimony before the House Subcommittee, Pickens spoke about the strong sentiments associated with the wild mustangs and the importance of preserving the "wild and romantic" imagery of America's past. "While England may have the tale of Henry VIII and his wives, and France may have had Napoleon and Josephine, we in America were blessed to have Lewis and Clark, cowboys and Indians, the Pony Express and wild horses. . . We need to respect our history and respect our God-given heritage," she said. "Let's allow the American people to have the chance to enjoy and experience these reminders of our history which are alive and well today roaming the West."

No one is disputing the sentimental and historical value of Ms. Pickens argument, especially Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia--who is the chair of the committee before which she is testifying. What is at dispute is the land on which these horses are to roam.

The 1 million acres that Ms. Pickens is seeking are part of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) grazing allotment. There have never been wild horses on these parcels, including back in 1971 when the Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted. Therefore, according to Ron Wenker, the agency's director for Nevada, "Because BLM grazing allotments under consideration by your foundation did not have wild horse herds in 1971, wild horses cannot now be placed there."

The second area of contention is the $500 per head, per year, stipend that Ms. Pickens is requesting to take the horses off the government's hands. "You've got to get some kind of break from the government," she said. Pickens estimates that her plan would save the government as much as $700 million in costs (spent for long-term holding) by 2020. The government projects the 2009 holding costs for horses in long term-care are $10.3 million and $22.6 million for those in short term facilities.

The government already pays ranchers $475 per animal, per year to provide long-term care for federally owned horses on private land and offered Pickens the option to do likewise, if the horse sanctuary was located on private land.

I think there are a couple of things going on here, not the least of which is the fact that those ranchers who are ranching government horses are going to lose a significant portion of their income. Second, the government does not want to give up any of its lands because I am guessing there are cattle that graze there and they are getting a nice stipend from the cattle ranchers to let them graze. "We've had a lot of push back from landowners in Nevada, cattlemen," elaborated Pickens. "I wish they would see this as a positive plan rather than a negative."

And then there is the problem of lack of leadership in the BLM. Obama has yet to name anybody to the post since BLM Deputy Director Henri Bisson retired. "It's a simple deal," said Pickens. "We take the horses; you pay a stipend for it; part goes into the foundation and it pays for the ranch and the horses get taken care of."

Sounds simple enough but let's see how long it takes for House of Representatives to realize that this is all about the BLM and the cattleranchers holding the horses hostage.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Woodpecker Issues

In addition to my rogue robin, who has migrated to someone else's window ledge thanks to the windsock, we used to have a misguided woodpecker, who pecked a large hole in the side of our house. He was very persistent and very noisy, and when I called the animal control people, they told me that there was very little they could do. It turns out that woodpeckers are endangered.

So I can truly sympathize with the residents of Rossmoor, California, who are waging war on woodpeckers. First the noisy birds filled the gutters of apartment buildings with acorns, and then they began moving in. The condo association of Rossmoor has shelled out $170,000, over the last ten years to try anything and everything to get the woodpeckers to move: shiny flashy tape, bird netting, paint additives, a real owl, a wooden owl and sonic devices, none of which worked.

Two years ago, they got a permit from the U. S Fish and Wildlife Service to bring in a sharpshooter to get rid of the birds once and for all. That seems to be working but the Audubon Society says it won't work for long. "It's bad science," says Jim Edgar of the local chapter. "If you kill them at noon, the breeding pairs will take their places at 1:00 p.m." Apparently killing woodpeckers only inspires them to create more to take their places.

In our case, hanging a stuffed owl, along with some mylar tape, seemed to do the trick. That, and the removal of a couple of dead tree limbs, which is apparently what attracted the noisy guy in the first place. Woodpeckers love dead wood, so if you have one you probably have a dead tree somewhere that is too good for him to avoid.

One thing I can tell you is that cute and cuddly cartoons, a la Woody Woodpecker they are not!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sniffing out Trouble

I am allergic to just about everything that grows, but luckily with monthly allergy shots, and a steady supply of Claritin-D, I have learned to keep my symptoms under control. I am very thankful that I don't have full-blown food allergies (although I think that the older I get, the less wheat and I are getting along but that is another story....) so the story via ABC News that a peanut sniffing dog recently saved her owner's life, caught my eye.

Eight year old Riley Mers and her Portugese Water Dog, Rock'O (are you listening Obama family?) go everywhere together, especially to school. Rock'O is one of six dogs (yes, you read that right, 6) specially trained to sniff out peanuts, to which Riley is severely allergic. Riley, in fact, is so allergic that she used to wear gloves because touching peanut residue of any type gives her about six minutes to get to the hospital.

Enter Rock'O and it's a whole new world for Riley. She no longer has to ask anyone if they have eaten something with peanuts or feel scared to go anywhere outside her house. Rock'O is trained in the same manner as a bomb sniffing dog and if he finds peanuts, he sits in his "alert" position to let Riley know he's found something she should avoid.

Though a specially trained dog like Rock'O doesn't come cheap (between $10,000 and $15,000), his presence has meant normalcy for Riley and her family. "I can actually go to the mall. I can actually go to bowling alleys," she said. "I'm wanting to go to college, and I'm going to be able to."

Granted, a dog like Rock'O isn't for everyone--Riley's peanut allergy is about as bad as they come--but the security he has given his owner and her family is most definitely priceless.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stem Cell Promise

Sammy came with bad hips. Of course this may not ever amount to anything because some dogs x-ray terribly and function perfectly, but the fact remains that his hips are a bit out of whack. This could, of course lead to hip displasia, surgery and intensive rehab.

The orthopedist does not even want to see us unless Sammy becomes incapacitated. And trust me, he is far from that. Nonetheless, the thought of surgery and REHAB boggles my mind because Sammy is HUGE. I cannot hold him, let alone hold him up with a sling. The logistics of letting him in and out would be incredibly complicated, not to mention the issue of his enormous ENERGY. Truthfully, can you imagine rehabbing a one year old golden retriever?

So I am holding out great hope for this stem cell treatment should we ever need to go down that path. In today's Inquirer, there is a piece about Zoey, a dog with bad hips, who has been helped remarkably by injecting stem cells, extracted from his fat, back into the animal. The stem cells stimulate repairs.

The treatment is in its early stages and is being marketed by Vet-Stem out of California. It does not come cheap (I am sure they are not covered by insurance)--between $2500 and $3000--which is more than surgery but probably about what it would cost to do surgery and rehab.

And there are questions, of course, about how long the treatment lasts and how many injections are needed, but Zoey is responding amazingly well.

The first injection "did wonders" reports his owner and he will soon get a second one in both hind legs to help him climb the stairs. Zoey, by the way, is a 14 year old American Eskimo dog.

As I said, I'm holding out hope, not only for Sammy but also for me!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Cowgirl's Journey

So what would you do if you lost your job as a ranch hand in Florida as well as your house, owned 2 horses, and there were no opportunities for employment in your state? Maybe try another location. Which is exactly what 44 year old Donna Byrne is doing. Except she's getting there on horseback.

"She loaded up her horses and all her worldly goods and hit the road," says Daniel Skidmore who read about Byrne in a local newspaper. In search of work as a cowgirl or ranch hand, Byrne is headed west--maybe to Texas or Montana, where she hopes to find a job.

Tonto and Jay, her two horses, are her traveling companions and so far, so good. She spent the first couple of nights sleeping outside until some local newspapers picked up her story. Since then, people started looking for her and many have offered her money, places to sleep, food, even veterinary services and new shoes for the horses.

"It's been a dream of mine to do this ride," she says. "Lost a house, lost a job. Had to do something quick. I figured right now'd be the best time to do it."

Members of a Florida chapter of Cowboys for Christ, a national organization, have started a website for Byrne and they are trying to set her up with lodging through Florida, and maybe all the way to Texas.

There is some concern that Ms. Byrne may not be making the best decision for herself and her horses and that she has indeed received offers that she has turned down. It may just be that she wants to go west, regardless of what stands in her way.

You can follow Byrne's journey for yourself and see what you think. If nothing else, she is one determined cowgirl!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tough Times Across The Board

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday in the New Jersey section about the effects of the economy on the horse stables and rescues in the northern part of the state. No surprise here: the rescues are overflowing and the stables are bare.

According to the piece, the Unwanted Horse Coalition, under the auspices of the American Horse Council, has launched a national survey to determine the extent of the problem. "America needs a wake-up call about this issue," said Dr. Tom Lenz, a veterinarian with the group. "The general population has this love affair with the horse without realizing the costs and complications of owning horses in this economy." The results are scheduled to be released next month.

I take issue with Dr. Lenz. I believe people who own horses DO know the expenses involved. I just think things are getting worse before they are getting better and the people who are giving up their horses are doing so because they have no choice. Horse owners rarely willingly give up the animal that usually serves as their lifeline to everything else.

Everything related to the horse industry is down: lessons, show exhibiting, sales of yearlings and horses-in-training, insurance. "The situation in a nutshell: people lose their jobs or their bonuses. Next they lose their animals."

Which makes the work being done by rescue organizations across the country truly heroic, especially when they are feeling the same economic pressures as everyone else. Hay doesn't come cheap, as Mona Kanciper, president of New York Horse Rescue notes:"Donations are down by 75% this winter and adoptions are down by 75% as well. The economy is making people desperate. But I can't take any more horses than I can feed. Do that and you defeat your own purpose and risk becoming a rescue case yourself."

If you can afford to support a horse rescue in your community, with time and/or money, I know they would appreciate a pat on the back right about now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Horses Are Not a Crop

When I took a medical anthropology course, we spent a good deal of time analyzing medical language, both the terms that doctors use to describe conditions that keep the patient "out of the loop" and those that are used to sugar-coat some procedures. I remember one girl in my class did a presentation on organ donation. It was fascinating that the process is called "harvesting." Technically, donated organs are not removed from a donor; they are harvested. One effect of this is to make the entire process seem less personal and intrusive.

So imagine my surprise when I received an email from the Equine Welfare Association announcing that cattle and agricultural associations have taken to using the word "harvest" to further their agenda of promoting horse slaughter. "The word slaughter has been replaced with the word "harvest" to portray crops that have ripened and need to be gleaned," reads the news release.

"Horses are not a vegetable crop. They are not even food," continues the statement. "Would you harvest your dog, your cat, or yes, even your gerbil?"

Apparently the euphemistic is approach is making headway. The AP is reporting that the Montana House of Representatives strongly endorsed a bill on February 24 that paves the way for the construction of a horse slaughterhouse in the state. It is expected to go to the state Senate for more hearings and a vote.

"This bill is really providing a humane and regulated processing plant," said the sponsor, Rep. Ed Butcher. "Demand is there. We want a better way to address the problem."

We all know that this practice is anything but humane but as long as lawmakers refuse to recognize this and call it something that it is not, the truth will continue to be disguised.

Don't be fooled. These horses are not being harvested. They are being slaughtered and the practice should continue to be against the law.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seabiscuit Stamp

How's this for timing? No sooner had I finished writing about the fact that Secretariat is the only thoroughbred with a United States postage stamp honoring him, then I get word that Seabiscuit (one of the other "heroic" horses in my thesis) will be sharing those honors come May 11!!

The United States Postal Service issued the 33 cent stamp of Secretariat in 1999, fittingly in the winner's circle at Keeneland Race Course. Remember those days when it cost 33 cents to mail a letter? At the time, he was the only thoroughbred to have a stamp with his likeness on it.

Seabiscuit's stamp will be issued on or before May 11, when the stamp prices change once again. His is being called a 2009 price-change stamp. The artwork for the design is by John Mattos and features a scene from the famous match race with War Admiral, which you will recall, Seabiscuit won by four lengths.

That race, by the way, drew 40,000 spectators to Pimlico and was broadcast to 40 million listeners on the radio, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Secretariat's Belmont in 1973 drew a crowd of over 60,000 to the track and captured 52% of the country's television viewing audience.

It's always to good to know that my assessment of heroic horses is endorsed by none other than the U. S. Postal Service, proving my point that these two horses crossed over from the sports world into mainstream American culture.

Sometimes, life is very good indeed!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fighting City Hall

I am in the middle of fighting City Hall which is the last thing I should be doing. But some things deserve a good fight.

At issue here is our Township's newly created "off-leash" area in one of our beautiful parks. All of which is great. The park is wonderful. The trails are clear and challenging. The dogs LOVE it and everyone gets some fresh air and exercise.

Here's the problem. To use this "off-leash area," which is only available between dawn and 9:30 AM, you must register your dogs with the Township and purchase both a license and a permit. This is still not a big deal except they are making it one.

Said registration includes veterinary records to show your dog has been vaccinated (still fine), a copy of your home owner's policy (to show you would be responsible if your dog were to attack someone, God forbid, a bit of overkill as far as I'm concerned but O. K.) and $25.00. But here's the catch. Only 2 permits per house!!!! Discrimination against owners of more than 2 dogs!!!

The rule states that one adult may only have 2 dogs off leash. I called up and asked what if I brought another person with me? No exceptions. 2 permits per house. 2 dogs per person, off leash.

For now, I am planning on keeping Amos on leash, which does not require a permit, and let the 2 goldens off, because truth be told, Amos never wanders very far from me to begin with, BUT that is beside the point. They do not believe I can control 3 dogs--which I have been doing quite nicely before this entire permit thing came to be.

Part of me feels like it is another aspect of our overly-monitored society in which kids are not allowed to do anything that might be remotely dangerous (and believe me everything is dangerous if you are a kid...) and part of me understands the need to be vigilant. And I don't want to ruin it for everyone who has fought to earn this privilege to begin with.

But Amos is not going to be a happy camper for very long and neither am I.

Stay tuned.