Thursday, April 30, 2009

First Saturday in May II

All eyes turn to Churchill Downs this weekend for the Kentucky Derby and with it come lots of reminders of Derbys gone wrong. For starters, there is the new statue of Barbaro outside of Gate 1, which is making quite a splash. From all reports, it is hard to ignore and a fitting reminder of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner's greatest accomplishment.

Of course, the memory of Barbaro is bittersweet and reminds us of last year's Derby and the untimely death of Eight Belles, who was euthanized on the track after shattering her two front legs after running the race of her life. Racing is going out of its way to inform the public that much has changed since then, but while improvements have been made on the surface, one wonders just how much as changed behind the scenes.

Churchill Downs has been awarded one of the first NTRA safety accreditations that bring with it the following changes for Saturday's race: padded starting gates, replacement of whips with riding crops, a ban on the type of cleated shoe believed to cause injuries and laws against anabolic steroid use.

The real question remains whether or not the very public changes will indeed make any difference. There are still 20 plus horses charging from two starting gates at break-neck speeds (a recipe for disaster in my opinion), a dirt track subject to all the peculiarities weather can throw its way, and the use of lasix, which, in my opinion, should also be banned. Plus who knows what else has been injected into these horses that may pass as "legal?"

I'm feeling apprehensive as I always do before the very public face of racing makes its annual debut. If anything else happens, heaven forbid, I truly do not think racing can save itself.

My picks for the race as as follows: Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile and General Quarters. I'm not sure how I am going to bet it but most likely not in a trifecta--too many horses to throw it off.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gratuitous Heat Wave Swimming

We had been having an early heatwave here--temps in the 90's for three days running so you know what that means: swimming!!!

As you will see, the dogs have discovered the stream at the bottom of the park and everyone, including Amos, seemed to love the cool water!

They seem to make their own current!

There go the goldens upstream!

It officially broke last night but since they have discovered this swimming hole it may be hard to discourage them!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Knee Bone's Connected to the Shin Bone.....

From The Washington Post comes this story of bones, and not just the canine variety. It seems that osteology professor Gordon S. "Grover" Krantz donated his skeleton and those of three of his beloved dogs to the Smithsonian. His dying wish was that these skeletons be put on display. "It was an outlandish wish," admits his wife Diane Horton. "He wanted his bones someplace. . . He thought he would be a good teaching specimen."

Krantz died of cancer at the age of 70, seven years ago. Before he died, the Smithsonian agreed to take his bones but had warned him that re-assembling them, would be a "long shot." Before the bones of Krantz and his Irish wolfhound Clyde arrived at the Smithsonian in 2003, they had been cleaned at the University of Tennessee. The bones of two more of his dogs were already there in storage, which is where they presumably would have stayed.

Except that the Museum was opening an exhibit called "Written in Bone" about Colonial-era grave sites in the Chesapeake region. Museum forensic anthropologist Doug Owsely decided that reassembling the skeleton of Krantz and his dog, Clyde, would be a fabulous ending exhibit that would certainly give museum goers something to talk about as they were leaving.

The task of reassembling the skeletons fell to Paul Rhymer, the museum's taxidermist. It took him several months to complete the project using power tools to drill tiny holes in the bones and thin wire to join them together. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, only doubled.

Rhymer began with Krantz' spine and worked his way out. Along the way, he discovered that all the bones did fit together in a logical way. In other words, it would have been impossible for him to put the vertebrae together except the way they were supposed to go.

Krantz and his dog are facing each other, the dog Clyde standing on his hind legs and Krantz is cradling his front legs in his arms. According to visitors, the pair is indeed a striking visual. Krantz, who harbored a life long love of bones (and taught the study of them, osteology at Washington State University) would have been extremely pleased.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Barbaro Statue Unveiling

How I dearly would have loved to have been at the unveiling of the Barbaro statue at Churchill Downs yesterday but sometimes prior commitments have a way of getting in the way. Not to mention the handing in of my thesis which occurs on TUESDAY!!!!!

Anyway, thanks to lots of people, I have been supplied with some wonderful links for those of you who want to read about the goings on. I suspect that I will be able to post more as the week progresses.

In the meantime, the FOBs have certainly made their presence known! At least 200 FOBs have quite a whirlwind of activities planned all week including attending the unveiling at which they were recognized by their ribbons, pins and of course Lael Farm colors. To think that this devoted group of followers, some 5,000 strong, has endured for three years, rescued 2,900 horses from slaughter and raised over $1 million is beyond remarkable. It is truly the legacy of Barbaro and one worth celebrating.

Great things take time to accomplish. What the FOBs have accomplished in three years is astounding. What the Jacksons started, by doing the right thing for the right reason, this dedicated on-line community has continued and will perpetuate. That is truly the power of love.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Food On Your Plate

There are many movements afoot in the animal welfare world not the least of which is veganism. For those who don't know, vegans do not eat anything made by or from an animal. No dairy. No eggs. Protein sources are tofu and beans and the diet is predominantly plant-based. I know many veterinarians who become vegans once they start vet school because the issue hits too close to home.

That being said, there is also a movement gaining momentum for factory-free farming. In fact, California recently passed legislation by nearly a 2 to 1 majority, that will ban commercial farms from keeping calves, pregnant hogs or egg laying eggs in cages too small to permit them to stretch out and turn around.

For those who care, I was once a vegetarian in my youth, not out of any great save the animals feelings, but more to assert my independence from the establishment represented by my parents. It lasted until college when it became too much of a hassle. I do not eat certain types of red meat (veal, for instance) because I find the methods of keeping veal calves to be totally inhumane, and I try to only eat grass-fed, free range beef products. I do eat chicken and fish.

I tell you all of this because Jeffrey Masson, whose two previous books, When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love were runaway best-sellers, has recently written a book about his life as a vegan. The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food sounds like a fairly sane read on living the vegan life.

For one, Masson admits he isn't perfect. According to a recent New York Times
article, if Masson discovers that he's eaten a bit of cake made with butter, he swallows it and moves on. "It's just too weird and too hostile to go 'blech' and throw up and say, 'I can't believe I ate that,'" he admits. In fact, he calls himself "veganish" and makes a convincing argument for the lifestyle since he admits its harder than it looks.

In fact, the best excuse for eating butter or meat, according to Masson, is "because you like the taste." He doesn't buy the arguments that suggest animals like cattle and chickens exist only because we eat them. "We're the only animal who gets to choose what we eat, so we can choose to do what's human and also much healthier," he says.

Here's a startling revelation that does have me thinking. Masson once raised two chickens who, according to him, were very social birds. They loved to come into the house and sit on his desk while he worked at the computer. His wife made him put the birds outside and when he did they immediately banged on the window to be let in. "They have such strong personalities," he laughs.

His point here is that the image of free range chickens is silly. Chickens, according to him, like to fly, take dust baths and hide their eggs. Not to mention, they don't like to be separated from their young. So whatever we do to chickens to ultimately make them grace our dinner plates is not what might be classified as a good life.

I'm betting Masson's book will have a lot of people thinking more carefully about their food sources. Let me know if you read it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pharmacy Taking the Blame for Deaths of Polo Ponies

The pharmacy in Ocala that compounded a vitamin and mineral supplement for the 21 polo ponies that collapsed and died in Wellington, Florida on Sunday, has taken responsibility for their deaths. "The strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect," Jennifer Becket, COO of Franck's Pharmacy told reporters. "We will cooperate fully with the authorities as they continue their investigation."

The supplement in question is called Biodyl and is made up of vitamin B, selenium, potassium and magnesium. It is routinely used to help animals recover from strenuous activities although it is outlawed in the United States. According to a statement released by the Lechuza Caracas polo team, "Biodyl is not the issue in this instance." What is the issue is the improper mixing of a compound believed to mimic Biodyl, at the request of an unnamed Florida vet.

Apparently this is all standard procedure for a foreign team that competes in the United States. They believe the benefits of using this vitamin/mineral supplement outweigh the possibility of having the ingredients improperly mixed. And apparently Franck's is one of the top suppliers in the nation of veterinary chemical compounds. The pharmacy also mixed compounds for human consumption. According to the Florida Department of health, the pharmacy has never had any disciplinary action against it and its reputation is pristine.

Unfortunately what we have here is a case of human error--something that happens at all levels of health care. It is a horrible situation all around. What is going to happen however is probably going to be even worse. Because what the public will hear is "pharmacy, drugs, improperly mixed" and once again, an equine sport, is going to take the rap. For its part, Merial Limited, the French-American company that makes Biodyl, says it is safe and has been used in Europe and Latin America since the 1950s.

Biodyl is used worldwide and is not a performance enhancer, but that is not what the public is going to hear. They're simply going to wonder why horses were being injected with anything at all. And why twenty one innocent beasts had to die.

You can read a local report here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Film About Pets in Katrina

There is a new documentary film entitled Mine: Taken by Katrina" about the story of animals left behind during the hurricane that is being screened at local film festivals around the country. Currently in Boston (April 25 and 26), at the Independent Film Festival Boston, the film has generated rave reviews.

Mine is a compelling story not only of the bonds between humans and animals, but also of race and class and the power of compassion in contemporary America. It is also a fine and thoughtful portrayal of the intersection between culture and policy as it tells the story of hurricane victims struggling to reunite with their pets after the storm.

Hurricane Katrina was one of those pivotal moments in the history of our country that demonstrated on a large scale basis the role of pets in our society. When shelters refused to take pets, owners refused to leave, risking their own lives. Those that were forced to evacuate were heart-sick at having to leave their companion animals behind. The power of the relationship between pets and their owners actually forced a change in public policy with regard to future evacuations.

You can watch a trailer of the film here and also find out if it is coming to your neighborhood. The documentary has already won the Audience Award for Best documentary at SXSW in 2009.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Deaths of 21 Polo Ponies

The equine world is reeling from the sudden, tragic deaths of 21 polo ponies belonging to the Venezuelan team competing at the U. S. Open Polo Championship in Wellington, Florida on Sunday. The ponies started expiring about two hours before they were scheduled to compete. Some of the horses were already dead when they arrived at the stadium; others died in rapid succession. Some died the next day, while receiving veterinary care.

Needless to say, the horse-friendly community of Wellington is devastated and rumors are rampant as to what caused these sudden deaths. Each polo pony was reputed to be valued at about $100,000. Make no mistake; these are the creme de la creme of equine athletes and are treated as such. It is hard to believe anyone would cause injury to these amazing athletes.

Yesterday, the State of Florida's Division of Animal Industry released a statement that said the horses were not affected with an infectious or contagious disease at the time of their deaths. They suspect the deaths were a result of an adverse drug reaction or toxicity.

All of which makes this story even more tragic. The horses were not showing any signs of illness Sunday morning. The Venezuelan Team veterinarian, James Belden, said it was unlikely that the horses had died from tainted medication or any type of steroids because both are banned in England, where the team usually competes.

Necropsies are underway but it will take some time to learn the results. For now, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said "It would be irresponsible to speculate on what may have killed the horses. We will wait until the facts are in before making any specific comments on the case."

You can read more reports here and here. In the meantime, condolences go out to Venezuelan banker Victor Vargas owner of the team. Yet another blemish on the public face of equine sports. It may take a long time to recover from this one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hungarian Seabiscuit

Talk about ripped from the headlines! On the front page of yesterday's New York Times is an article right out the pages of my thesis!!! It appears that the country of Hungary has latched onto a thoroughbred named Overdose with a fervor reminiscent of Seabiscuit!

Overdose was purchased for "a pittance" and currently boasts an undefeated record in 12 starts!! Like Seabiscuit, he is described as "short" and "kind of ugly" and was overlooked at the sales in Newmarket. At the moment he is nothing short of a national "hero" and appears to have inspired and re-invigorated Hungarians who have been facing some tough times lately.

"This horse has a mission here in Hungary," said Zoltan Mikoczy, the horse's owner. "I can compare Overdose to Seabiscuit," said Zalan Horvath, the secretary of the Association for the Future of Equestrian Sports in Hungary. "I say that because the Hungarian nation has had a lot of bad times, in the last centuries but also lately."

It seems that the "little horse that could" has re-inspired Hungarians to believe in themselves and generated an aura of national pride. Even his one blemish, an apparent victory in a sprint at Longchamp in Paris that was nullified because of a starting gate malfunction that affected another horse, has been compared to the signing of the treaty of Trianon that narrowed the Hungarian borders to what they are today. "Again the tough luck, again in France," said Trivadar Farkashazy, Overdose's biographer.

What is it about a racehorse that makes it capable of generating such nationalist sentiments? A combination of strength, beauty, innocence and determination, personified by a racehorse that wins, has the ability, time and time again, to inspire humans to think beyond themselves. It is of course, the Barbaro phenomenon, except Barbaro generated it when he raced as well as when he tried to recover from surgery, and it gets a little tricky because it is also a marker of where we are in our relationship with these animals.

Leave it to animals, however, notably racehorses to remind us that anything is possible. "Failure is the most often heard expression in Hungary today--failure, mistake, pessimism," siad Viktor Orban, chairman of the Fideszz Party and a former Prime Minister. "When even a horse is able to make a miracle from nowhere, it's a sign of hope that we can get out from the desperate situation we are now in."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where the Deer and the Kangaroos Play...

It seems as if kangaroos are Australia's equivalent of deer--at least when it comes to population explosions! From the AP, and courtesy of the Inquirer, comes word that Canberra, the capital of Australia is being overrun with the very symbol that put it on the map--kangaroos.

!7% of drivers in the district report having collided with a kangaroo at least once and kangaroos have broken into people's homes and terrorized their children. Truly it seems as if the large marsupials are running amok. So what's the government to do?

They've tried birth control and relocating them to less populated areas. Now they're proposing a cull (I told you all of this would sound very familiar) and you guessed it, many of those down under are up in arms. How can you shoot those cute cuddly creatures?

Exactly what the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia says, in the personna of Pat O'Brien, president. "It's disgraceful that people want to shoot our national symbol," he comments. "The days when wildlife is managed with a gun should be long passed."

Kangaroo meat, by the way, was once considered only good enough for pet food. What kind of pets dare I ask? Now it is found in European restaurants (might these be the same ones that serve horse meat?) and the hides are used for leather.

The government, giving in to one part of the public protest, has agreed to bury the carcasses if it is permitted to cull the roos. The public has until May 11 to make its voices heard (why do I think we will hear them half way around the world?). After that, my guess is that lots of kangaroos are going to disappear in the middle of the night.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Barbaro Left Behind

Careful readers of this blog might note a new link to my work. Recently, I had one of my academic papers accepted for publication in Coastline, an interdisciplinary journal of Graduate Liberal Studies.

The paper, What Barbaro Left Behind: The Celebrity Illness Narrative as Inspiration, is one I wrote for a bioethics course last year. I examine the genre of the celebrity illness narrative (think Lance Armstrong's book about his "battle" with testicular cancer) and include the Barbaro story in the mix. Of course, the fact that Barbaro does not tell his own story is problematic, as is the fact that he does not survive his "illness," but based on the qualities that a celebrity illness narrative is supposed to engender, I think you will find there are indeed many similarities.

Warning: it is not "light" reading, meaning that it is fairly lengthy, so you might want to download the essay and peruse it at your convenience.

On a larger scale, I am pleased to have made the jump into "academic' publishing, even if it is online.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Give Me Singing Polar Bears Anytime

Have you seen the movie trailers for the new Disney film, Earth? The film, to be released on Earth Day (April 22) follows three animal families and their struggles to survive over the course of a year. Although the animals don't have names or sing songs, according to the New York Times, the genre, which is part nature documentary and part up close and personal Disney, may be a difficult niche to carry off.

In other words, this is Bambi without animation and it remains to be seen if parents will take their children to see nature without the sugar coating, even if it is rated G. To me, it is almost a no-win situation for the company that brought you Mickey Mouse.

I understand Disney is trying to both grow up and capitalize on the "green" back to nature movement. Hence the film is made by the same people who made the highly successful Planet Earth mini-series on the Discovery Channel. And to be fair, the photography is spectacular--at least the shots I have seen in the trailers.

But, elephants are not penguins and neither are polar bears. Not that penguins are any less subject to being anthropomorphized, but there is something about laying eggs versus giving birth to live beings that makes the birds a heartbeat away from us. Elephants and polar bears are too close and too subject to being stuffed animal cuddly, even if they really aren't.

Hence when a baby elephant is separated from its mother and dies and the father of two polar bear cubs bleeds to death, it may be too much stark reality for animal loving adults, let alone kids. Yes, it is the real world but since when has Disney ever been about reality?

My advice to Disney would have been to create a "green" ride somewhere in its theme parks, promote all it does to recycle and maybe even install low flush toilets and showers in its hotels, but stay away from the big screen unless we are all going to feel good when we walk away from the theater, preferably humming a catchy tune.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Generally Speaking, He's My Feel-Good Pick

If writers wrote the script for the 2009 Kentucky Derby, you can be sure that General Quarters would win. His back story, as many have already pointed out, is exactly what the sport needs, especially on the heels of the Paragallo fiasco.

General Quarters, for those who don't know, is trained by Tom McCarthy, a retired 75 year old high school principal from Kentucky. He has been in the horse business for almost fifty years and has been a full time trainer since retiring in 1990. He has never had anything close to a "big horse." In fact, General Quarters, who is the only horse in his stable right now, won about half of what McCarthy earned in all those years, when he won the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland last Saturday and earned eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

But here's the clincher: McCarthy claimed General Quarters for $20,000 last year. Not $2 million or even $200,000. $20,000--not small change but less than a year at an Ivy league college.

All of a sudden, McCarthy is in the big time, rubbing elbows with the elite of the sport and enjoying every minute of the accolades that are coming his way. "I hope that the clock doesn't strike 12 right away," he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "I've always been on the outside looking in, not quite good enough to go on to different stages. Before this, the most I've ever won were allowance races."

Savvy readers might remember that Barbaro was the first Grade I stakes winner for the Jacksons. Racing is one of those sports where success can literally happen overnight, which is one of the reasons it is so seductive.

We all know how much Americans love the underdog--look no farther than Seabiscuit. I can think of no better outcome for the Derby than a feel-good story about a 75 year old prostate cancer survivor getting his just rewards.

With my earlier pick Old Fashioned retired due to injury, you can bet I'm hopping on the General's bandwagon and will be cheering him home. How about you?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pet Food Politics

Not that it is any of our business, but since everything about the first family seems to be fair game, the question of what they are going to feed their new puppy, Bo, is one that is making the rounds on the blog-o-sphere. I actually took a course in Food and Culture during my recent grad school days and wrote my paper on where Americans get their information about what to feed their dogs: from their vets, from the pet food store, from the breeder (or shelter) where they got the dog, or from other pet owners.

I put a survey in several local pet food stores and people were incredibly nice about completing it. I think I got about 50 responses in just a few days and while it is certainly NOT scientific, it does give you an idea of the zeitgeist of pet food politics.

It turns out, according to my data, that when it comes to nutrition information, pet owners pretty much rely on their veterinarians for advice. All of which sets up a nice little conflict of interest, in my opinion, because most vets sell prescription pet foods from which they derive a hefty percentage of their incomes. Not that vets are necessarily mercenary, but if it comes down to a choice between what they sell and what you can buy elsewhere, might they not steer you in their direction?

Anyway, one of the best authorities on the pet food battles is Marion Nestle, who writes a blog for the Atlantic. In fact, she addresses just this topic of what the Obamas should feed little Bo here. As you will see, the bigger issue for Nestle is not what they feed the puppy but regulating the pet food industry, which is not subject to the same regulations as the human food supply chain. We all know about the massive pet food recall a few years back that send many pet owners to their own refrigerators to feed their pets, but as Nestle writes, that may not be necessary.

We may never know what Bo Obama eats but I predict we will know when he decides to make a few foxholes in that beautiful vegetable garden they just planted!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hold That Stretch

In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a story last week about a new craze: doga or yoga with dogs. The reviews for this pursuit of nirvana with your pooch are mixed but it shows, once again, just how far we are willing to go to include our dogs in every aspect of our lives.

The general idea beyond this bonding routine is that doga combines massage, meditation and stretching for you and your canine companion. I think the key is to find yourself a class where the dogs are fairly flexible (no pun intended) and willing to go along with the idea of low intensity exercise. Otherwise you run the risk of ruining your hour of escape with barking, panting and chaos.

One participant describes such a class in which the instructor used a stuffed animal (not even a dog) to demonstrate the position that the dogs were to assume as well as a large bag of treats to persuade the dogs to either assume that position or amuse themselves. "Peanuts, my retired racer greyhound did not participate," says the woman who attended such a class. "Instead, I did downward-facing-dog while he ate the most treats he's ever had in a 60-minute period."

Personally, I cannot think of anything more challenging than doing yoga with any of my dogs in tow, even mellow Amos. Every time I even try to stretch out on the floor with my dogs around, they interpret it as playtime.

Then again, there are those who seem to love it, so go figure. I'm just amazed at how far we are willing to go to include our dogs in our lives. As one disciple puts it: "People always ask me, 'Do dogs need yoga?' I say, 'No, you need yoga. But your dog needs your attention, and bonding with your pet is good for your health.'"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Story About Renewal Just in Time for Spring

The following was forwarded to me and worth sharing with you...


In 2003, police in Warwickshire, England, opened a garden shed and found a whimpering, cowering dog. It had been locked in the shed and abandoned. It was dirty and malnourished, and had clearly been abused.

In an act of kindness, the police took the dog, which was a Greyhound female,
to the nearby Nuneaton Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, run by a man named Geoff Grewcock and known as a willing haven for Animals abandoned,
orphaned or otherwise in need. Click for
Geoff and the other sanctuary staff went to work with two aims to restore the dog to full health, and to win her trust. It took several weeks, but eventually both goals were achieved.

They named her Jasmine, and they started to think about finding her an adoptive home.

But Jasmine had other ideas. No-one remembers now how it began, but she started welcoming all animal arrivals at the sanctuary. It wouldn't matter if it was a puppy, a fox cub, a rabbit or, any other lost or hurting Animal, Jasmine would peer into the box or cage and, where possible, deliver a welcoming lick.

Geoff relates one of the early incidents. "We had two puppies that had been abandoned by a nearby railway line. One was a Lakeland Terrier cross and another was a Jack Russell Doberman cross. They were tiny when they arrived at the centre and Jasmine approached them and grabbed one by the scruff of the neck in her mouth and put him on the settee. Then she fetched the other one and sat down with them, cuddling them."

"But she is like that with all of our animals, even the rabbits.
She takes all the stress out of them and it helps them to not only feel close to her but to settle into their new surroundings."

"She has done the same with the fox and badger cubs, she licks the rabbits and guinea pigs and even lets the birds perch on the bridge of her nose."

Jasmine, the timid, abused, deserted waif, became the animal sanctuary's resident surrogate mother, a role for which she might have been born.

The list of orphaned and abandoned youngsters she has cared for comprises five fox cubs, four badger cubs, 15 chicks, eight guinea pigs, two stray puppies and 15 rabbits.

And one roe deer fawn. Tiny Bramble, 11 weeks old, was found semi-conscious in a field. Upon arrival at the sanctuary, Jasmine cuddled up to her to keep her warm, and then went into the full foster mum role.

"They are inseparable," says Geoff "Bramble walks between her legs and they keep kissing each other. They walk together round the sanctuary. It's a real treat to see them."

Jasmine will continue to care for Bramble until she is old enough to be returned to woodland life. When that happens, Jasmine will not be lonely. She will be too busy showering love and affection on the next orphan or victim of abuse.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

They're dropping like flies...another Derby contender has pulled out because of injury and the big question is whether or not thoroughbred racing can withstand any more prime time injuries.

Old Fashioned, one of two Larry Jones-trained horses, finished second in the Arkansas Derby and in the process sustained a non-displaced slab fracture of his right knee. Trainer Jones said the injury was non-life threatening and that the horse would be shipped to Lexington's Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for evaluation and possible surgery.

"It's not life-threatening, it should be okay," Jones told "Career ending is a possibility just because of the type of horse he is. But we'll see. We'll let them make that call."

Jones, of course, has a second Derby contender in Friesan Fire. He also trained the ill-fated Eight Belles who was euthanized on the track following devastating injuries suffered in last year's Derby.

While the injury to Old Fashioned is just plain bad luck (and it does seem like Jones has suffered his share....), the bigger question over at is whether or not thoroughbred racing can survive any more prime time injuries. All the old questions are resurfacing about the timing of the Triple Crown in a horse's career, over-breeding, synthetic surfaces, use of whips. We've heard them all before but it is significant that this time it is Bloodhorse, the trade publication, that is doing the asking.

For the record, I don't think that racing can survive another live, televised disaster in the race for the Triple Crown at any stage of the game. While we should be grateful that Old Fashioned didn't collapse on the track, we should also examine why the injuries keep occuring at what seems like an alarming rate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Survivor, Canine Style

Here's a story that gives new meaning to the term survivor. From Australia comes news that a pet dog that fell overboard in choppy waters has been reunited with its owners, four months later!

The dog, a type of Australian cattle dog, is named Sophie Tucker, after the late film star. She fell off her family's sailboat in November and was believed to have drowned. (Question 1: Why wasn't that dog wearing a life vest?)

Instead, she paddled over five nautical miles in rough seas and washed up on St. Bees, a largely uninhabited island. Rangers discovered Sophie Tucker when she began killing feral goats.

Jan Griffith said her family was heart broken at the loss of Sophie. She contacted rangers who had reported finding a dog on the island of St. Bees in the possibility that it could be Sophie. She also said when the rangers first spotted her, Sophie was looking thin and bedraggled. But then they started finding goat carcasses and Sophie began looking more robust.

The rangers put two and two together, rounded up Sophie and made people aware of her existence. Sure enough, when the rangers brought the dog to meet the Griffiths, there was no denying that she belonged to them. "We called the dog and she started whimpering and banging the cage and they let her out and she just about flattened us," Griffith told the Australian wire services.

Just goes to show you that some domestic dogs, like some humans, can indeed adopt an island "survivor" mentality, even if there is no prize attached. "She surprised us all. She was a house dog and look what she's done. She's swum over five nautical miles and she's managed to live off the and all on her own."

Dare we even suggest the tribe has spoken?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Alex Brown's Remarkable Ride

Just in time to be included in the last chapter of my thesis, Alex Brown's work has been recognized in the Thoroughbred Times. It truly is extraordinary how the legacy of Barbaro has inspired an entire grass roots campaign for equine welfare and should be, as I do mention in my thesis, the subject of an entire dissertation (far out of the realm of my expertise).

Just for the record, in a little over two years, Alex Brown has spearheaded an online campaign to raise more than $1 million and rescue more than 2700 horses from the slaughter pipeline. This truly is astounding, especially when you consider that before Barbaro, Brown, as he admits, "never spent much time thinking about horse slaughter."

Talk about the power of the Internet plus the power of a tech-savvy webmaster. I maintain it takes both to energize, motivate and galvanize a disparate community, not to mention, constant time and attention.

Brown continues to uses social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to expand the geographical base of his group's efforts. He also continues to promote unity among animal welfare organizations--distinct from animal rights groups--and to reach out to horsemen, who are not always on board when it comes to groups who aim to disrupt their sport.

By serving as an advocate for horses, AND working withing the industry, Brown occupies a unique position that gives his stance credibility, especially among those who might not listen to his point of view. In addition, his background as an instructor in web marketing is huge, giving him the tools to actually practice what he used to teach.

I'm in the process of determining if there is life after the thesis--in other words, does anybody want to hear more? If so, you can be sure that the story of Alex Brown will occupy a significant chapter.

In the meantime, kudos to Alex for all that he has done.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Pickens Campaign Takes to the Web

Madeleine Pickens has taken a page out of the book of the Friends of Barbaro, enlisting web support for her campaign to create a sanctuary for America's wild horses. In fact, she urges her supporters to contact Interior Secretary Salazar and encourage him to review her ideas.

It appears to be working. According to Pickens, Interior Secretary Salazar has received over 3,300 emails and in return, the Bureau of Land Management has conceded that Pickens' plan would indeed save the taxpayers millions of dollars.

However, the Bureau of Land Management is not going down without a fight. They cite several legal issues that still stand in the way of Pickens taking the wild horses off their hands, and these require Congressional authorization. In addition, they also point out that most of their contracts--which is how they view what Pickens is offering--are awarded by competitive bidding.

Pickens is all for competitive bidding and she challenges the Bureau of Land Management to conduct a transparent bidding process to create a humane, cost effective solution for the management of America's wild horses.

Pickens is waging a brilliant campaign and I can't help but admire her efforts. She has joined forces with large animal welfare organizations as well as with individual horse love and it appears to be working.

What this means, of course, is that the work of the FOBs has become a model for grass roots activism initiated on the Internet. I wonder how long it will be before the FOBs adopt Picken's plan as well.

Kudos to the group that started it all!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Some Good News For a Change

On the heels of the horrible story about breeder/owner Ernie Paragallo, whose horses were rescued from the kill pen (and the subsequent article in Sunday's New York Times that this was not the first time this has happened), comes this wonderful report about the success of Philadelphia Park's program Turning for Home.

Located on the grounds of Philadelphia Park, and sponsored and managed by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the non-profit's mission is to serve as an avenue for trainers and owners to provide safe places for retired racehorses.

"Whether they're lame or sound, young or old, we take them into the program, with the exception of an intact horse," says program administrator Barbara Luna. Once they are admitted into the program, the Jockey Club takes them out of the registry. They will not slip through the cracks. They will retire with dignity.

Owners and jockeys actually help pay for the cost of running the program. Every time, they start at Philly Park, owners put in $10.00. Winning jockeys donate $10 for a first place finish and $5 for a second place finish. And Philly Park kicked in $50,000 to match the organization's first yer start-up fees.

The practice of selling horses for auction is strictly prohibited at Philadelphia Park. Horses can be adopted privately from Turning For Home, and one of the most famous adopters is none other than Gretchen Jackson, who rescued six of Turn For Home's pensioners at the end of the summer. According to Luna, "She said she'll take care of them for the rest of their lives. We need more people like that."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Sad State of Affairs

A horrible story surfaced in the New York Times about possible neglect of former racehorses belonging to Ernie Paragallo, a prominent New York based breeder and owner.

According to Joe Drape, who wrote the story, four of Paragallo's mares were rescued from a kill pen last month, en route to being slaughtered. "The four mares were 'hundreds of pounds' underweight, infested with lice and parasites and in 'horrible condition,' according to Dr. James Holt, who examined them."

Paragallo says he gave the horses away to a Florida-based breeder, with the understanding that he could breed the mares back to one of his stallions. He did not disclose the name of this breeder, although he did say that he intended to ship "another batch" of horses to this man.

Richie Bairdi, the transporter, who was hired to haul the horses from Paragallo's farm to Florida is the one who took the horses to the kill pen. He says he had no choice. He said he could not haul them because of their poor condition. "They were a bag of bones, literally walking hides," he told the times. "I didn't even think they'd make it to Florida."

Lisa Leogrande, who operates a boarding and training facility nearby, is the one who spotted the horses in the kill pen. She traced them back to Paragallo and rescued three of them. Christy Sheidy, who operates Another Chance 4 Horses, rescued 4 others but it was too late to save the rest.

The horses that Sheidy rescued include Theonlyword, who won more than $50,000 and Coconut Martini, who won nearly $35,000. Also rescued was the 17 year old mare, Finely Decorated, who was purchased for $80,000 as a two year old. All of these horses raced for Paragallo in the colors of his family's stable, Paraneck Stable.

In his defense, Paragallo says he keeps his barren mares thin and that he also did not know of the mares' ultimate destination. "They were my horses and what happened to them is a tragedy and a travesty, and I take full responsibility, but I didn't sen them to the killers."

I'd like to believe that a responsible owner and breeder would take responsibility for his horses for the duration of their lives, and the jury is still out on Paragallo. It does show, however, how easily horses can slip through the cracks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

If I Ran the Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo is celebrating its 150th birthday this year and amidst all the hoopla, there is a sobering commentary from Marianne Bessey that exposes another side of the story. It seems that while the zoo has spent some big bucks recently to upgrade some of its major exhibits, "many of the zoo's inhabitants remains confined to crumbling, Depression-era structures."

It is important to note that Ms. Bessey is not calling for the demise of the zoo. Rather, she is suggesting that the zoo needs to take care of what it already has before adding any more new exhibits, animals or visitor amenities, especially considering the fact that millions of city tax dollars are spent on zoo services like water, trash collection and even capital expenditures.

Zoos are hot topics in the academic field of animal studies. Scholars have investigated everything from the history of zoos to the history of what it means to "keep" animals and, as you might expect, opinions as to what is best are all over the place. What I think is important about Ms. Bessey's piece is the fact that she is advocating cleaning up what already exists--which I believe, is a commendable, if not popular, effort.

As Bessey herself notes, the Philadelphia Zoo is a hugely popular "tradition," and criticizing it is about "as popular as root canal." But her observations of some animals still being kept in dark and often cramped cages, are correct. The saddest footnote to this is the fact that even in the new, state-of-the-art "Big Cats" exhibit, the big cats take turns rotating into the spacious outdoor environment. When it is not their turn, many cats are still confined to indoor cages.

At the heart of the matter are the elephants, which remain a hot button issue for animal welfare advocates. The zoo apparently is planning on breeding two of its older elephants (an event that in itself can be considered dangerous, considering their advanced years) and is awaiting the construction of a breeding facility outside Pittsburgh. In Ms. Bessey's opinion, "it's unconscionable that the zoo refused to send the elephants to a wonderful sanctuary that offered to take them in at no charge years ago."

In this era of belt tightening, many zoos are being forced to close altogether. I hope that Bessey's arguments fall on receptive ears, especially those of city officials who are taking long, hard looks at how tax dollars are being allocated. If those dollars set aside for the zoo were to be devoted to caring for what already exists, rather than adding more, it would be a prudent example of animal conservation, one of the zoo's missions.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

One Nation Under Dog

There must be something in the water, or maybe the water bowl. Two recent Inquirer "alums" have written dog books. One we already know is successful: John Grogan's Marley & Me. The second is out this week from Michael Schaffer, One Nation Under Dog.

I happened to sit next to Michael Schaffer about a year ago when we both were invited to attend a series of lectures at the vet school. He was at the end of the book, at the time, and was working on his chapter about pet bereavement seminars, hence his involvement with Penn, where they are very popular. He didn't reveal much, other than to say he was exploring the "new" world of pet ownership to determine what it says about us as a society.

Interesting premise. I wrote him recently to ask for an advance copy of the book in case there was some new information that might find its way into my thesis and he was happy to oblige. I am just as happy to report that his book is really good: incredibly well researched, entertaining and eye-opening. A lot of the stuff I already knew about, being deeply entrenched in dog ownership. But it often takes an objective eye to make sense of it all.

As readers of this blog already know, the Pet Industry is a $43 billion behemoth that seems to be holding its own in the recession. Schaffer travels around the country investigating some of the more over the top examples of our pet obsession. Ironically, he could have found similar examples right in his own backyard but the point was to make the obsession "national," which it surely is.

And so what does it all mean? That we are a nation of consumers, deeply wedded to the concept that the ways in which we choose to part with our earnings are individualized, personal decisions that we feel entitled to make. So if we choose to buy organic pet food for Fido while there are starving children in the world, that's our choice.

And that once you make the decision to treat your pets as members of the family, its hard to take it back. To which I might add, that there were probably always people who felt that way, but for some reason, didn't broadcast their views. Of course, now that its alright to admit you're pet-crazy, everyone has come out of the closet, including an entire industry of people to service their needs.

It seems to me that the issue is tied to our need to divulge everything--witness Twitter--and that pets are just part of the things we feel compelled to share. There is also a dark side to all this--the psychological toll that being a "responsible" owner can take on those forced to make very difficult decisions about treating or not treating a sick pet, for instance, and the very real guilt and anxiety many experience while wondering if they have done the right thing.

I think everything Schaffer says is right. I also think we may be creating more than we can handle by treating pets as people.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Magellan Penguins

Here's another example of our devotion to animals. Conservation biologist, P. Dee Boersma, in an interview in the New York Times, talks about the public outcry that ensued in the early 1980s in Argentina when a Japanese company wanted to harvest the country's penguins for oil, protein and gloves. "This was during a military dictatorship when dissidents were being thrown into the ocean from airplanes,' Boersma notes. "And yet people said, 'We object to having our penguins harvested.'"

All of which was lucky for Boersma because she got to study the colony of Magellanic penguins that inhabits Punta Tombo, in Argentina and has been doing so ever since 1982. What she has learned is that global warming is very real.

The penguins, according to Boersma, are having to travel farther and farther from the nest to find food, leaving their mates who are keeping the egg warm, starving for longer periods of time. And the ones that return are equally as exhausted. Which means they are laying their eggs on average, three days later than they did, forcing the hatching chicks to leave for sea at a time when it may not be the most opportune. Yes, even three days makes a huge difference.

The Punta Tomba penguin colony has declined 22% since 1987. That is a significant number. It is both climate change and human exploitation (overfishing and pollution) that has led to a decline in the penguins' food source. When they travel farther afield, they leave the protected areas, and run smack into real danger.

"The big thing is that penguins are showing us that climate change has already happened," says Boersma. "The birds are trying to adapt. But evolution is not fast enough to allow them to do that, over the long term."

Boersma hopes that the boundaries of the protected areas will increase but realizes that the time may come when hungry penguins turn up searching for food on private beaches. And then what?

More evidence that we need to clean up our act, big time.

Friday, April 3, 2009

From a Master

From last weekend's Wall Street Journal, comes the following wonderful reporting of the way dogs improve our lives, courtesy of novelist Thomas McGuane. While I am not a hunter, or advocate of guns for that matter, I do understand the necessity of dogs having "work" and hunting dogs, in particular love to do their job.

McGuane says it better than I ever could:

"On a bright and cold October morning, my dogs Abby and Daisy, the Pointer Sisters, are in my closet helping me select my clothes. On the left end of the rack are everyday clothes; on the far right are coats and ties for the occasional urban jaunt; and in the middle, clothes for sport, especially hunting. Here sit the two girls, tails whisking the floor between shoes. They moan, grumble and pant wishfully while my hand hovers over the coat hangers. I shouldn't do this as dogs don't enjoy being trifled with. They know where the thornproof pants hang, since the red suspenders dangle to eve level for them, but they watch my hand. I don't move. Abby turns to stare at my boots with such longing, she must think they can scoop me up and take me into the hills. Finally, Daisy can't stand it and barks at me: I pull the hunting pants from their hanger and with a cry of triumph, they scramble out of the closet to watch me dress. Let others withstand the elliptical trainer, the rowing machine and the NordicTrack. Mama wants two partridges for tonight's table and I will walk long miles hoping to get them."

My dogs know that all is right with the world when I put on my dog-walking clothes first thing in the morning. When I appear in some semblance of business attire, Phoebe turns on her heels and walks the other way. "How could you?" she chides.

It is amazing how we alter our lives for our four legged friends and how in turn these alterations usually turn out to be beneficial for both of us. As McGuan admits, "I can tell myself that I take my dogs afield because they want to go and yet when the hunt is on, the urgency spreads from them to me as they course through rivers of scent; I am tugged along in a state of rising alertness and renewed addiction."

I know that even as I grumble about loading three furry beasts into the car, I always return from our morning hikes delighted that I went.

McGuan quotes Bob Dylan, "You've got to serve somebody."

The truth is, we dog lovers, love serving our dogs, even as they serve us, as McGuane notes, by "glomming the sofa."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tweeting About Twitter

A confession. My kids hooked me up on Twitter some time ago. I do not, however, have the time or the inclination to let anybody know what I am doing every minute of the day. So if you send me emails that you are now following me on Twitter (I do get them) please be assured that you will rapidly lose interest. Simply put, I don't Tweet.

I know lots of people use Twitter to get business, promote their books, sell their products or themselves, but I honestly don't get it. I don't want people "following" me--email and cell phones are omnipresent enough--and quite frankly it defeats the purpose of "getting away" by letting everyone know where you are and what you are doing.

And who has time to do this anyway? In between running errands, I should let you know I found a coveted parking space? Who cares? And why would I waste time to post this useless piece of information? And why would I want to be more tethered to my phone than I already am?

Actually, the concept is fairly amusing from a parental point of view. The same kids who complain that their parents are "hovercraft" are now broadcasting their every move. It's like built in GPS with text. If anything, you'd think they'd want to remain anonymous, unless they think we can't figure it out.

So pardon me if I don't respond to your Tweets--if something is important enough, you'll read about it here or get a personal email from me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Christian, the Book

You, of course, remember the video of Christian the lion being reunited with his owners (in time to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You) that was generating mega-hits on youtube. Well Christian's former owners have re-released their book about their quasi-pet, entitled A Lion Called Christian.

I'm here to report it is a very quick read--big print, small pages, and fun as well as fascinating. As the authors, Anthony Bourke and John Rendall, detail in the Introduction, they wrote the book in 1971, when they were both in their early twenties, and they have tampered with very little as far as the story line goes. What they have added are some updates and some corrections. As they admit, they were both proud of their original effort, as they should be.

Among the things that we learn is that Christian was not just released willy-nilly into the wild. He was placed into the custody of George Adamson, husband of Joy Adamson (of Born Free fame), which explains how the reunion came to be in the first place. George, until his death, continued his wife's work with lions at Kampi ya Simba, Kora, in Nairobi. John Rendell remains on the Board of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, which continues to fund conservation projects to this day.

It is also clear that Bourke and Rendall had no intention of keeping Chrisitan indefinitely. They knew he would reach a point when he would be too big and too strong for them to control and they never intended to make him into a trendy pet. Christian was very lucky in that regard.

What I find especially fascinating about the story is that it mirrors society's transformation from the freewheeling 1970s, when you truly could purchase a wild, exotic pet at Harrods "Zoo," to the conservation, return-animals-to-the-wild and protect endangered species mentality we have today. In this regard, Bourke and Rendall were most definitely ahead of their time and perhaps that is even more remarkable than the reunion footage.

Joy Adamson, of course, probably had as much to do with this mindset as these two kind former hippies, but in a nutshell, if you view this book as a window into society's transformation, I think you will find it an enlightening and entertaining read.

No fooling.