Monday, August 31, 2009

A Skins Game?

The recession has put the kabosh on sales of many high end items, including alligator skin handbags, purses, shoes and watchbands. As a result, gators have less to fear from humans, according to an AP report found in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Alligator farmers are expected to cull about 30,000 eggs this year, down from a half million in the not too distant past.

In addition, wildlife officials anticipate the harvest of live gators to also be significantly down. "Nobody's buying," said Ron Guy, Rapide Parish's (in New Orleans) alligator control officer. He's the guy you call if a gator happens to wander onto a golf course or your lawn. His reward for rounding up the guy has traditionally been the right to sell the skins.

In 2007, the sale of gator skins reaped $71 million for Louisiana's alligator farmers. This year, revenue is expected to be closer to $10 million.

Many find the entire practice of harvesting and selling alligators for their skins to be completely inhumane but the fact of the matter is that it is a tightly regulated industry. And while I, for one, would never wear alligator shoes, I also would not be too thrilled if a population explosion sent the source of those shoes wandering across my backyard. Alligators are a legitimate threat to people and while I don't believe they should have to sacrifice their hides for our vanity, I also don't think I'd like to wrangle with one in my pool.

It should be interesting to see whether the recession ultimately ends up being good or bad for the alligator. It may turn out that more are actually killed when their presence becomes dangerous. Not a good reason to buy that watchband, but an interesting side light to our purchasing habits.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where is Michael Vick When We Need Him?

So here in Philly, the Michael Vick situation is still making headlines. "Will he play or won't he?" is one but there are also others about sporting goods stores (Dick's, for one) that refuse to carry his jersey as well as a summit hosted by the Eagles for area animal welfare groups. Then there was the one about Vick being spotted in a bar sipping an alcoholic beverage recently and questions about whether or not this violated the rules of his parole. No answer to that one.

But perhaps the most disheartening one came a few days ago when the PA SPCA announced that it had uncovered and broken up a dog-fighting operation right in the Eagles' backyard. Animal welfare officers, acting on a tip to an animal cruelty hot-line, discovered two dead dogs and five others badly injured. "The dogs were all scared," said George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the PA SPCA. "One appeared to have been in a real recent fight. . . he was still bleeding."

According to Bengal, the entire block where the dogs had been found was "a mecca for fighting." "This particular bust is especially timely," noted Gail Luciani, PR officer for the PA SPCA.

Here's my question: where is Michael Vick when we need him? We know that he made an appearance in bankruptcy court in Virginia the day of the Eagles' last pre-season game, but do we know if he bothered to go door-to-door in this neighborhood and help round up any other dogs used for fights? Did he help stake out this house in an area known for this type of behavior? Did he offer to pay for the veterinary care for any of these abused dogs in his new city?

Stay tuned. It remains to be seen whether or not a leopard really can change its spots.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Divided Loyalties for Governor Rendell?

I know you are probably sick of hearing about the Michael Vick deal, but how's this for irony? On the day that Vick made his debut with the Eagles (Thursday night, for those of you who are paying attention), Governor Rendell signed an anti-animal cruelty bill into law.

Now for those of you who don't know this, Rendell is a HUGE Eagles fan--in fact he is probably the only Governor who appears on the local Comcast post-game live show following each Eagle's home game. He is also a huge animal lover. His two rescue golden retrievers are frequent passengers in the back seat of the limo that ferries him around and they have been spotted at many state occasions. Rendell makes no secret of the fact that he loves dogs.

The new law makes it illegal for any one other than a veterinarian to do the following: cropping, trimming or cutting off an ear; debarking by cutting or injuring the animal's vocal chords; surgically birthing a dog and removing dewclaws from a dog over five days of age.

"Until now, these cruel practices could be carried out by dog owners without proper training and without supervision by a licensed vet, which could lead to long-term injury, pain, and in some cases, death to these defenseless animals," said Rendell at the bill-signing ceremony, which was also attended by one of his golden retrievers, Maggie. The new law also increases penalties for dog fighting.

Prior to this bill, many puppy mill operators would perform these procedures, subjecting many Pennsylvania animals to what is tantamount to torture. Department of Agriculture spokesman, Justin Fleming said that the new law requires an animal warden to refer the case to the local human officer as a cruelty complaint if they see an animals on which these procedures have been performed.

So here's the big question? How does the Governor feel about Michael Vick sporting an Eagle's jersey and will he still let Maggie watch the games? Better yet, what will he have to say if Vick makes it into a regular season game?

Stay tuned. This may be one instance where the Governor, never at a loss for words, may have to bite his tongue.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Michale Vick: The Dogs' View

Some things jut don't want to go gently into the night, especially in this neck of the woods:

Dogs speak out on Michael Vick; they're miffed

Monday, August 24, 2009 10:47 AM CDT The Vicksburg Post and sent to me via the Internet

I was talking with my dogs about this Michael Vick thing.

They were candid enough to admit it has them puzzled.

"Let me get this clear," our retriever said. "This guy admitted being the kingpin of the 'Bad Newz Kennels' national dogfighting enterprise for five or six years, tested positive for drugs while on bail pending sentencing on federal and state charges and even filed bankruptcy despite being paid more than $25 million as a professional athlete?"

"That's right," I said.

"But after a couple of months in prison and a tell-all apology on '60
Minutes' everything's OK for him to return to stardom and million-dollar paychecks from the Philadelphia Eagles?" the dog wanted to know.

"Well, yes," I said, before launching into a soliloquy on the American
system of justice. "The criminal code," I said, "is a compact among people, written by their duly elected representatives, that defines certain acts, behaviors and even omissions, such as failure to stop at a red light, as destructive enough to the common good to require a public response, trial and, if guilty, punishment in the form of a fine, imprisonment or both."

The retriever tried to interrupt with a comment that as a puppy he got no trial - just a whack with a rolled up newspaper - for accidents on the carpet, but I pressed on.

"The thinking is that once the punishment provided for in law has been meted out, the slate is wiped clean," I said. "Vick did his time and has satisfied all the continuing terms and conditions of his release - so his score is settled. Second chance, fresh start, all that..."

It was about time for the dalmatian to pipe up, and she did.

"If the law says that," she said, "the law is an ass." (The dalmatian is the smarter of our dogs and, in addition to Dickens, often quotes Yeats and Shakespeare. )

I tried to explain that the law doesn't specifically say all must be
forgiven, that it's more of a societal convention.

Then they both started in on me.

"Let's say you got a guy who's been divorced three times, stays drunk and can't keep a job," the retriever said. "He hasn't broken a single law, but by 'societal convention' no one wants him dating their daughter."

"Yet," the dalmatian said, "here's a guy who managed the bringing of
innocent little puppies into the world only for the purpose of torturing them into becoming ravenous, mindless killers, who unmercifully killed those who refused to fight and who profited financially from fostering this misery, yet now that he's 'sorry' about it all is forgotten. Your children - people children - are supposed to sit in front of their TVs on Sunday afternoons and cheer for him because he was also born with the ability to throw a football a quarter-mile? "

If you've read this far, thank you. As your reward I'll spare you from the tirade I had to hear about how dogs are snuffed for one errant bite or delivered to the Humane Society for such offenses as being "too frisky," yet an admitted dog-torturer and dog-killer who derived pleasure from the pain of animals can be deemed "rehabilitated. "

"All I can say," the retriever concluded, "is y'all better not ever give dogs the right to vote, especially the dogs in Philadelphia. "

"Yeah," the dalmatian said. "We dogs know some things. For instance, "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."

Told you the dalmatian was smarter.

Charlie Mitchell
is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post.

Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182,
or e-mail cmitchell@vicksburg

Thursday, August 27, 2009

RIP Senator Kennedy

In the category of reinvention, nobody, in my opinion, did it better than Ted Kennedy. He transformed himself from a cocktail-loving playboy into the self-proclaimed Liberal Lion of the Senate. It took a while--decades, in fact--but the elder statesman image stuck. Through tragedy after tragedy, Ted was the Kennedy who shouldered the burdens, buried his parents, two brothers, a nephew and sister-in-law, and went down fighting valiantly against a horrific illness.

Whatever you think of Ted Kennedy's politics, you had to admire the man for recreating himself. Besides that, he was, as this piece from the 2006 Boston Globe, illustrates, a total animal lover. When it came to his dogs Splash and Sunny (who accompanied him to work in Washington, although not onto the Senate floor), his love was genuine and all too familiar to those of us who share the affliction.

Splash authored a children's book and also paved the way for the newest canine resident of the White House, Bo.

Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy. We're pretty sure someone else will take over the tennis ball tossing honors, but probably none will do it in quite the same way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Non-Move-In Days!

I was in the supermarket line the other day behind groups of young boys who were obviously grocery shopping for themselves for the first time. It was then I realized that move-in must have happened at some of our local colleges. It took me another moment to realize that for the first time in 24 years--yes, you read that right--none of my children is in school!!

Allow me to ponder this statistic for a moment. Almost half of my life has been devoted to schooling my offspring. What a thought.

I never actually considered how much time kids (and by extension,parents) spend at the business of schooling. And when you consider advanced degrees, the years simply multiply. Of course there is no way of knowing whether or not this status of school-less children will continue (I know one, at least is contemplating grad school next year), but for now it is truly a situation worth contemplating.

For one thing, no tuition bills. For another, no planning events around vacations or exams. No parents weekends or sporting games to attend. No more appeals to buy magazines to support the lacrosse team or care packages to feed your student during exams. No more frantic searches for baby pictures for the yearbook or consultations about what to get the coach.

Don't get me wrong, college days are great. But even greater, at least to me, is self-sufficiency and for the time being, I am the mother of three pretty much self-sufficient kids. Here's to non-move-in days!

And to all the others out there worried about what those kids will buy in the supermarket when they do shop for themselves for the first time--you'd be surprised. There were lots of carts ahead of me filled with fairly nutritious, fresh food--O.K., there was one loaded with nothing but boxes of frozen pizza and shredded wheat--but for the most part, I saw minimal soda, no candy and pretzels instead of chips.

In other words, lighten up. And take it from me, as far away as they may seem, they still do manage to find their way home.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unique Penn Study Forges Links Between Human and Canine Cancer

From the recent issue of Penn Vet Extra, comes news of an innovative research project spearheaded by Penn vets which will investigate similarities between canine mammary tumors and breast cancer in women, using shelter dogs.

According to the report: "Mammary gland tumors are the most common tumors in intact female dogs and represent a common cause of disease and premature death in dogs around the world. The development of mammary tumors in dogs is dependent on exposure to ovarian hormones and the tumor risk can be significantly reduced by spaying at an early age. The risk for developing breast cancer in women is also associated with the cumulative exposure to bio-available estrogens, suggesting that similar hormone driven mechanisms might be linked with breast cancer development in both species.

Early spay/neuter programs are supported by AVMA and animal welfare organizations throughout the United States as a measure to prevent pet overpopulation. Despite vigorous spay and neuter campaigns, the majority of the dogs in shelters are sexually intact, and mammary tumors in older dogs are prevalent. Because of their life threatening illness, these dogs often are overlooked for adoption due to their shorter life expectancy and their need for costly veterinary care.

Terry, a seven year old dog from the Humane Society of Berks County, was the first of thirty dogs enrolled in the new study. She had surgery in early July to remove her cancerous tumors and will be followed by the Penn oncology team at no cost to Terry’s new family. Like Terry, dogs enrolled will be identified through Penn’s Shelter Animal Medicine Program and animal rescues in the area. These dogs need our care the most and we are here to help them live happy, healthy, and quality lives.

Watch a YouTube clip of Terry, the first patient participating in the canine mammary tumor program!"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Live Sports Radio at the Post

The Wall Street Journal (sorry subscription required) ran a column last week about a new device that spectators can purchase, often en route to their seats, that keeps them informed about every aspect of the game or event they are paying to watch. It is called Live Sports Radio, and it is a live broadcast, via satellite radio, of the action. Spectators at the recent PGA Tournament were spotted wearing them--they look like blue-tooth devices clipped to one ear--and they were a big hit last season with many college football fans.

At $20 apiece, they are an impulse purchase but one that golf fans, in particular, who typically camp out at one hole and have no idea what is going on elsewhere on the course, have become enamored of. And since they only attach to one ear, you are not losing the live feeling or the play by play commentary, only enhancing it.

American Express is the sponsor of the device at the upcoming U. S. Open and will provide thousands of radios free to its customers. The idea is to allow spectators to hear what John McEnroe is saying live on television about the very point they are watching. Plans are in the works for a Super Bowl broadcast in Spanish and frankly, I can see endless possibilities for the device, which is the brain child of an English rugby fan, Nick Opperman, who wrote the business plan as part of his MBA.

I would love to see racing incorporate this gizmo, although I am sure they will be slow on the uptake. Imagine if with your racing program, you could get a running commentary about the breeding and past performances of each horse in each race. Knowledgeable insiders would tell you what to look for when you watch the horses warm up in the paddock and on the track.

What a concept. The first time race goer would not have to be limited to picking numbers, names or hunches but might actually learn something about the sport. There could even be commentaries about historic races, legendary superstars, jockeys...well, you get the idea.

Create an informed consumer who has already made the decision to shell out the gate fee and keep them coming back for more. It would not annoy the regulars since they would not have to listen, but would certainly enhance the experience for the newcomers.

Are you listening TRA? Get a sponsor and get on board. Major League Baseball has long been ahead of the curve technology wise. What would it take for racing to embrace change--perhaps the realization that without it, the sport could be history.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One Man's Pooch...

So while the media here in Philly is still writing about reactions to Michael Vick joining the Eagles, another story about a Philly athlete and his dog has slipped by. It seems that Lenny Dykstra, the former Phillies centerfielder, has filed for bankruptcy and listed, among his assets, his $10,000 German Shepherd.

It seems that Dykstra valued his dog based on the purchase price, which, the Smoking Gun (courtesy of lists as $10,000. It seems that Dykstra once showed a photo of said dog to Bryant Gumbel and told him he planned to buy him for $10,000. "That's a world champion," he said. "That's the only dog I'll buy."

Presumably the dog has retained its value. Many of Dysktra's other investments have gone south, including his car washes, ebay stores, The Players Club, an upscale magazine for athletes, and his investment business. Former employees report that they have not been paid.

No word about whether or not Dykstra would actually be willing to part with the pricey pooch or if he can even afford to keep him. His list of liabilities is $37.1 million and his list of assets, including the dog, is $24.6 million.

I wonder what Michale Vick would say to that?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Injured Animal Syndrome in Action

Here's a page right out of my thesis--the part about the injured animal syndrome being the tipping point that attracts humans to the plight of the animal, regardless of whether or not they were a big fan of the species before the injury. Think whale who swam the wrong way and ended up in the Thames River. Or, of course, Barbaro, the injured horse who attracted thousands of followers who did not know a thing about race horses until they watched one break down live, on national television.

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer (on the front page, no less), the latest injured animal to attract a legion of fans, is a wounded guinea hen, named Tildy. It seems that Tildy and her mate decided to take up residence in a townhouse development near Chadds Ford--Andrew Wyeth country. The neighbors of this development were friendly to each other--waved in passing, etc., but not many knew each other by their first names. Typical suburbia--private and self-contained.

All of that changed when the birds came to town. Suddenly people were talking to each other--usually to ask questions about the birds. They discovered that they had literally flown the coop from an established fowl farmer a few blocks away and had no intention of going back. Many people gave them different names and everyone enjoyed watching them and reporting on their antics.

And then one day in early Spring, the male disappeared. He left behind a pile of feathers and the general consensus was that he had become a predator's lunch or dinner. His widow, known as Tildy, suddenly became very gregarious--as if she was trying to seek him out. She jumped on porches and chased cars and earned a fan club of regulars who became very attached to her.

And then in June, another pile of feathers. Most feared the worst but she was soon discovered, badly wounded, but still alive. Two residents threw a towel around her and transported her to a vet who offered to perform surgery for the fee of $1000.00. A group of homeowners, now all on a first name basis, agreed to go along with it and sent out an email to their neighbors asking for contributions.

Thus far, $950 has been raised toward Tildy's vet bills of $1600. And Tildy? Well she is recuperating on one of the resident's porches in a large dog cage. She will require crate rest for another few weeks and then will be placed with a family who raises guinea fowl on a farm a few blocks away.

And all those neighbors who banded together to save her life? Well, they admit they will miss her, but they now have each other. As one said, "It takes a village to help a bird." Indeed, but especially if the bird is injured.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Horse Friendly Riding Crops

Some fans have noted with dismay what they interpret to be an overuse of the whip by Rachel Alexandra's jockey, Calvin Borel, in her last start, the Haskell. He does hit her about five or six times as they turn for home but them manages to hand ride her to victory. When asked about the tactic, he said it was to keep her focused. Apparently she was looking around at the crowd when she should have been concentrating on the finish line.

In any event, a recent article in the Miami Herald notes that overuse of the crop may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to the recent trend to institute horse-friendly riding crops at most major tracks. As of this week, Del Mar and Monmouth become two of the most recent tracks to convert to the softer "stick." The new crop has already been mandated for use at Delaware Park and Philadelphia Park and jockeys at Saratoga have voluntarily adopted its use.

Ironically, the use of the softer crop may actually look like more whipping is actually going on since the jocks may have to use it more frequently than the more rigid stick, but the good news is that it is much more horse friendly. "With the new racing crop, horses seem to react to the sound of the popper rather than from a physical reaction to the whip," noted jockey Garrett Gomez who is based at Del Mar. The new crops have been endorsed by the Jockey's Guild.

At Monmouth, where the new crops will become standard this week, jockeys have been voluntarily using them in the last race each racing day since July 8. Of course, this does not explain Borel's use or overuse of the whip in the Haskell since it was not the last race, but it will be interesting to see if he goes to the whip if Rachel runs in the Travers at Saratoga.

The Miami Herald also notes that the use of these crops is one more example of humane treatment of thoroughbred racehorses, an issue that has "been front and center since the tragic accident Barbaro suffered early in the running of the 2006 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course."

The Barbaro Effect continues.....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oscar the Scavenger

This is Oscar, the resident seagull of an Inn in Maine that we have been frequenting for ten years. Oscar is a scavenger par excellence. He will swoop down on the breakfast table and lift pats of butter, small dishes of blueberry jam and absolutely anything and everything you leave behind. He will not make his approach until the coast is clear, however, and to ensure this he frequently perches on the eaves of the building while unsuspecting diners eat.

Oscar, it seems, has become quite a nuisance, especially to those who have planned their weddings on the beautiful lawn of the Inn, overlooking the ocean. In fact, after an entire oyster bar set-up was ruined by one of Oscar's fly-overs, the Inn has taken to hiring a specific person with the sole responsibility of keeping Oscar away from appetizer tables and bar set-ups (with munchies). Oscar, it seems, will truly eat everything.

I did not realize that seagulls were such aggressive scavengers until our waitress one morning told the tales of Oscar almost dropping jelly dishes onto the heads of guests playing on the lawn. In fact, she had recently learned that a popular sport among certain kids in Brooklyn is to feed seagulls Alka Seltzer. It seems that they literally explode in mid-air once the fizzy tablet makes its way through their system.

Short of poisoning them, there does not seem to be an easy way to make peace with seagulls such as Oscar who have learned that humans are usually a good source of food. Maybe we have created our own dilemma by eating outside, within the boundaries of what is usually construed as Oscar's domain and considered fair territory. Short of screening in the deck, anybody have any suggestions for keeping the Oscars of the world away from your breakfast?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Some Things Are Just Meant to Be

From the Internet. Some things need to make the rounds:

Do you believe in canine guardian angels and the kindness of strangers? You just might after reading this story.

Early one morning, Yolanda Segovia's neighbor, Stacey Savige, knocked on her door and asked her to temporarily take in a stray dog she had found. The scruffy terrier mix had no collar or microchip. Segovia eyed the pooch -- burrs sticking to his belly and mud caking his fur -- and reluctantly agreed to foster him for the day.

An erstwhile hairdresser, Segovia hasn't worked since 2006. At 47, she is a survivor of breast cancer and cervical cancer. A divorced single mother of two, Segovia shares her Port Tampa, Florida home with her 10 year-old son Azaiah and 21 year-old son Christian. Her elder son has Down Syndrome; he cannot speak or bathe himself, and he has had heart surgery and a kidney transplant, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

Azaiah immediately took to the dog, whom he named RaeLee (pronounced "Riley"). Segovia and her sons bought the dog a collar, leash, ball and brown bed from the dollar store, and all that day, Azaiah played with the dog, laughing gleefully whenever RaeLee licked his face. "Don't fall in love with him," Segovia warned.

Segovia and Savige made 4,000 FOUND flyers with the dog's picture, stuffed mailboxes and put an ad on Craigslist. When no one called, RaeLee stayed the night at the Segovias' house. His dog bed was placed in the living room, but when the boys climbed into their twin beds, RaeLee dragged his bed down the long hallway and bunked with the boys in their room.

By Saturday -- four days later -- no one had called to claim RaeLee, and he was still living with the Segovias. The honey-colored terrier had started responding to his new name. He almost never barked, loved playing rambunctiously with Azaiah, and was tender with Christian.

One afternoon, the dog settled himself on the floor near Christian as he watched a "Barney" video in his room. Segovia was outside watering the plants when the placid moment was shattered by the sound of RaeLee crashing into the screen door and barking crazily. Alarmed, Segovia opened the door, only to have the dog race back through the house towards the boys' room. Segovia followed, screaming when she caught sight of her son. Christian was "slumped over, his body writhing in a seizure, blood streaming from his nose and mouth." RaeLee stood next to him yelping, but suddenly went quiet when Yolanda reached down to hold her son.

"If he hadn't come to get me," Segovia told the St. Petersburg Times, "the neurologist said Christian would have choked on his own blood and died." The dog, she decided, was a keeper.

But the next day, Segovia and her sons were heartbroken when someone called to claim the dog they had come to love. Randy Cliff, 34, who lived six blocks away said he had been searching for his dog -- real name Odie -- for over a week. Odie had lived with Cliff, his wife, their four children and infant granddaughter. Savige cried, telling Cliff, "That dog saved my friend's son."

When Cliff came to collect his dog, RaeLee a.k.a. Odie, leapt off the Segovias' porch and into his arms. Christian watched from a window. Azaiah stood on the porch watching the man hug the dog he knew as RaeLee. "We're going to miss you," he said, tearfully.

Looking up, Cliff took in the scene -- Christian looking scared, Azaiah looking downtrodden -- and asked, "Is that your brother?" Azaiah nodded yes.

With a sudden change of heart, Cliff put the dog back down. "Maybe Odie was supposed to find you," Cliff told a stunned and delighted Azaiah. "Maybe you should keep him."

And that is how the kindness of strangers -- Savige for rescuing a lost dog, Segovia for taking him in, and Cliff for giving up his pet to a pair of brothers who needed the dog more -- brought RaeLee to live with Azaiah, Christian and their mother.
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Monday, August 17, 2009

New Face in Town

There's a bright new trainer on the backstretch on the racing circuit these days and when I say bright I don't mean shiny. Michelle Nihei (pronounced Nee-hay) is probably the only trainer at Saratoga with a Ph.D. in neuroscience. So what's she doing training horses?

It turns out that the "politics" of academia were not for her, according to a piece in the New York Times. She earned her doctorate at the University of Kentucky and was working her way up the junior faculty ladder at Johns Hopkins when, in 2001, she decided to return to Kentucky to re-evaluate her career choice. After talking her way onto a horse as an exercise rider at Keeneland, she never looked back. "After my first horse, it was like the light went on," she said. "I just knew that's where I was supposed to be."

In 2003, she got a job as an assistant trainer with Todd Pletcher and just recently went on her own. In 2007, she set up shop at Tampa Bay Downs with seven horses, most owned by one of Pletcher's former owners, Elisabeth Alexander. "When she wanted to go out on her own, I was very happy to back her," Alexander told the Times. "She's proving to the world that she's as good as we thought she'd be. I don't think there's too many other Pd.D's on the backstretch."

Niehli currently has 14 horses at Saratoga and is hoping for a few winners during the course of the meet. "No matter what I take on, I have to feel like I'm in it to win," she said. "I'm not going to do something I'm not good at."

No word as to whether or not her former work researching and conducting clinical trials on such issues as the effects of lead paint on humans has any correlation with horse training, but I'm guessing that the brain cells developed in the pursuit of a doctorate will not go to waste. At the very least, she will always know how and where to look for answers to some of the myriad questions she is bound to encounter. And if there is some connection between the brains of horses and those of humans who better to find it?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Canine Cancer March on Washington

A cause near and dear to my heart: Puppy Up and join us if you can!

Dogs Called Upon to March on Washington September 18
to Raise Awareness of Canine Cancer

With the rate of canine cancer reaching epidemic proportions, thousands of dogs and their owners are being called upon to march on Washington, DC, September 18 to raise awareness of the issue and memorialize those who have succumbed to the disease.

Those interested in participating in the 2009 Canine Cancer Caucus should assemble at Lady Bird Johnson Park at 10 a.m. on Friday, September 18. All dogs must be on a leash and socialized with other dogs. Owners are also encouraged to bring water for themselves and their canine companions, as none will be provided.

The walk will begin at 11 a.m. and conclude with a gathering at the Old Folklife Festival Site on the National Mall near Constitution & 14th streets. The event many qualify for a Guiness World Record for the largest dog march. “Many people are surprised to learn that dogs get the same types of cancer as humans, including
brain cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma and melanoma,” said Luke Robinson, who is walking 2,000 miles with his two Great Pyrenees dogs over two years to raise awareness of the issue. “They are also getting it at a much more accelerated rate, which means the average lifespan of a dog is rapidly shrinking and could reach five to six years in just a few decades. This march is to bring awareness to this frightening issue and hopefully stimulate interest in the funding of canine oncology studies that will help not only dogs but also people.”

According to Robinson, dogs are “canaries in the coal mine” in regards to cancer in humans. Comparative oncology studies on cancer rates in dogs and people living in the same area could yield critical information in determining the causes of cancer. For example, if studies show humans and dogs living in the same area have higher-than-average rates for a particular cancer, then environmental factors may be the underlying cause.

Robinson began his 2,000-mile journey in May 2008 after he lost his Great Pyrenees, Malcolm, to cancer and could not find any significant research into the disease’s causes. He and his current dogs, Hudson and Murphy, will be participating in the September 18th march to raise awaremeness and celebrate the completion of 1,800 miles of thier two-year walk from Austin to Boston.

After assembling at Lady Bird Johnson Park, participants will march across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and stop at the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall for a brief memorial service for those dogs lost to cancer. The march will then continue to the Old Folklife Festival Site, where Robinson will be joined by other speakers to discuss the canine cancer epidemic.

Dog owners interested in participating can look for updates about the march posted at Additional information about canine cancer and Robinson’s 2,000- mile walk are also available at the site.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fly Vick Fly--Out of Here

This is a true story. I was driving my parents home from Saratoga earlier this week and my father was sitting in the front seat, flipping radio channels to find the sports radio talk shows in every state we drove through. On one channel, the subject of Michael Vick came up--some commentator made a remark that he was shopping for a new team.

Without missing a beat, my father said, "That's disgusting." This from an avid sports fan, a devoted football fan and a serious dog lover. A most emphatic dismissal of a talented athlete who clearly could have an impact on any team he played for--at least in his day.

But there's more. Startled by my father's stark condemnation of Vick, I responded, half in jest, "As long at it's not the Eagles...."

Well imagine my surprise when I heard on the radio yesterday morning, that the Eagles had signed Vick to a two year deal. I almost choked on my toothpaste. Who do they think they are kidding and what do they think they are going to accomplish?

As you can well imagine the media is all over this story, and usually with a very negative stance. The consensus seems to be that it is a bad move--on the football field and off--and that his presence is going to do little to advance the cause of the Birds in the hearts and minds of their fans. Some even suspect that the move is a ploy to attract attention to the team that seems to be tired of the Phillies stealing the limelight.

My opinion? Yes, I do believe that offenders should be given a second chance but I also think that they need to work their way up to a million plus salary. I know Vick is touring the country with the Humane Society of the United States speaking out to groups about the evils of dog fighting, but I still think he has been handed a golden ticket in terms of re-entry. Let him work in a car wash or at a fast food restaurant. Better yet, let him work in a kennel cleaning up after the dogs he abused. Don't give him a million dollars without earning it the hard way.

I also think that this move may be our coach's moral and ethical stance on giving offenders a second chance--all the more personal because two of his kids are in jail for drugs. Please note that both of these kids have blown the terms of their paroles at least once, so so much for reform at the hand of the system. I also think this treads dangerously close to mixing personal and professional values--ironically, a line that Andy Reed has steadfastly refused to discuss when it comes to the status of his kids.

Give the guy a second chance fine, but let him earn it--perhaps with no pay for a year or two, perhaps by donating a a huge chunk of his salary to the SPCA or better yet a youth Half-way House, perhaps by serving as the equipment manager and working his way up to spot on the team. I know he is going to sit on the bench but for how long? If something happens to Donovan McNabb (not a long shot by any means since he seems to be prone to injury), how long will it be before the fans actually clamor to put Vick in because he is a good player? In other words, how long before the desire to win at any cost causes amnesia?

In my opinion this is a very bad move by the Eagles' brass, and a worse move by the coach. In fact, it is a horrendous move all around and I am hoping the Eagles' fans flock to the Phillies-who by the way, actually do value character.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Things That Go Bump in the Day or Night

Shortly after 9/11 when the anthrax scare was working its way up the panic scale, I heeded the advice to buy bottle water and place it in a "secure," windowless room in the event of a catastrophe. Of course, as my kids are quick to point out, the exercise was ridiculous (how long could we really survive in one room?), but in the process of designating a "secure" room, I discovered that our house has very few rooms without windows. In addition to being a poor choice to wait out a bio-hazard, this design turns out to be a serious hazard to birds.

According to a recent article in the Inquirer, "the very qualities that people prize in glass--transparency and reflectiveness--make it invisible to birds, who mistake the reflections for reality." The result? They often fly directly into the glass surfaces, and literally knock themselves out. Forever.

Muhlenberg College ornithologist, Daniel Klein, Jr., is partly responsible for bringing this topic to the attention of the Audubon Society. According to the Inquirer, Klein calculated that building crashes cause between 100 million and a billion avian deaths each year in the U. S. "From a population standpoint, it's a bleeding that doesn't get replaced," he noted.

In Philadelphia, a recent study found that the mirror-like front of Temple University's student center building is especially hazardous to birds. At Swarthmore College, the glass encrusted science building has frosted dots etched into its windows to make them safer for birds. While it has proved effective, the decoration added about $40,000 to the building's cost.

"People ask me if we really spent $40,000 on birds, and I say, no, we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of the building," notes engineering professor E. Carr Everbach, who lobbied long and hard to get those dots installed. Science buildings have high cooling costs, even in winter, and the "fritted" or patterned glass blocks about 60% of sunlight that triggers the A/C even in winter.

For those of us with window filled homes, there are several alternatives to deter birds from crashing into them. These include hanging dangling objects outside problem windows, rubbing a bar of soap on the outside to make them less reflective, or installing stickers in a pattern spaced no more than two inches apart.

On the drawing table are such things as a roller that paints dots on the outside surface of glass and a bird proofing window film. Until then, hang a few wind chimes near any walls of glass you may have and be sure to position bird feeders either less than 3 feet or more than 30 feet from windows.

That way any thuds you hear will legitimately send you running for that bottled water!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saratoga Sales

I am just back from four whirlwind days in Saratoga including the first night of the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales. It was business as usual at the track and at the sales pavilion, boosted in large part by the attendance of Sheikh Mohammed.

Last year, Synergy Investments, run by one of the Sheikh's associates, purchased Fasig-Tipton and proceeded to pour substantial capital into the company with the intention of turning the summer sale into the word's premier yearling auction. The grounds have been beautifully updated with the major benefit being an improved walking area for the horses en route to the sales ring. The "on deck" area is so much safer for the spectators and so much better for the horses with improved lighting, fencing, fans and the presence of big screen televisions to let everyone know exactly what is going on in the auction ring at all times. The crowd seemed to loved the improved viewing area which afforded them plenty of front row seats in increased safety thanks to the substantial and attractive fencing. All around a much needed update.

In addition there was increased table and food service and more paving around the sales pavilion where the crowds like to gather. The presence of televisions almost everywhere you turned kept the crowd engaged in the auction, which continued as usual in the pavilion. Rumor has it that the Pavilion itself is next in line for a much needed rennovation.

The sales started early: 6:00 p.m. which did make for some slow going in the early hours, but bidding was lively, aided once again by the presence of many English agents, the majority of whom were bidding for the Sheikh or his associates. Sales prices were up a tad and the first night sales toppers both went to the Sheikh. Not only were his cronies everywhere, the Sheikh himself greeted crowds outside the sales pavilion lending his star status to the event. It is always fun but this year it seemed electric.

The Americans are not buying horses for more than about $300,000 but the Arabs are, so while overall sales numbers are up, the economy is still affecting the industry. The Sheikh is on a mission and he does not like to fail--so if bringing some of the biggest names in the business together--often at his expense--and then literally putting his money where his mouth is--sets the stage, then he more than demonstrated his "failure is not an option" mentality.

The bigger question, of course, is whether or not it will work and that remains to be seen. What the industry got was a much needed shot in the arm, a boost to sagging morales and a few glittering days of "prohibition-be damned" attitude.

Like I said, it was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Mascot Passes

If you have one of those cars with the bumper sticker that reads "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington," chances are you met Nin, the mascot at the top, especially if you visited the Observatory. Word comes that Nin has passed away at the age of approximately 19. "He wa a very special cat," said Diane Holmes, a Mt. Washington State Park ranger who took him home after he "retired" from his "park" duties in 2007. "We will miss him a lot."

The cat, who was a stray claimed by an employee of the Observatory, spent about twelve years in the facility. He "brought a little piece of home" to those who worked there, remembered executive director Scot Henley.

He patroled the picnic areas occupied by summer tourists, preferring to feast off their scraps than to catch mice. And recently he served as the inspiration for a cat in the children's book, Cat in the Clouds, by Eric Pinder, a former weather observer at Mt. Washington. When he got too old to jump, he would still figure out ways to climb to the highest surface to claim food, often intended for Holmes' other cats.

Nin's Fan Club reminds us that there is a place for animals in even the most scientific of environments, if only to remind all of us that there is more to life than calculations. Nin is buried in a site that overlooks the Presidential range of mountains.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Headless Horsemen

The Wall Street Journal recently published a review of a book that was brought to my attention by a loyal reader. Headless Horsemen, by Jim Squires, sounds like a provocative tell-all of the demise of racing, as seen by an "insider" who has become disgusted with the business. It is certainly on my to-read list.

Jim Squires, the author of the tome, is a Kentucky transplant, having moved to Blue Grass country in the 1990's after a career that included ten years as editor of the Chicago Tribune. Squires and his wife accomplished what everyone in the industry dreams of--they bred 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. The story of that adventure was previously chronicled by Squires in Horse of a Different Color, published in 2002.

This time around, Squires tells a different tale of a sport dominated by billionaire insiders who have done nothing to stop the sport from tumbling into an abyss from which he feels there is little escape. To begin with, there is the cronyism among elite members of the Jockey Club that takes quite seriously their mission of perpetuating their own lineages among the ruling elite of the sport. As we already know, nobody is truly in charge of the sport, which means that nobody is taking responsibility for its present or future actions.

And then there is the rampant drug abuse, which Squires chronicles in great detail. He even suggests that the great Secretariat may have raced on steroids, a fact that also exhibited itself in his early breeding days. Likewise, Squires suggests that even the late great Frank Whitely, the trainer of Ruffian and Damascus, was not above using cocaine to enhance the performance of his horses.

I haven't read the book yet so I can't comment on his research but I do know that the allegations he makes of elite in-breeding among the powers that be and rampant drug abuse in the sport are nothing new. With regard to Secretariat, Ruffian and Damascus, we will never know the truth one way or the other, so what he says can simply be added to the speculation camp. Make of that what you will.

In the meantime, check out the book. It may be nothing new but it is probably worth reading.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie and Julia

A few years back I read a wonderful book written by a girl who cooked her way through Julia Child's classic tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and wrote a blog about it. The blog became an internet sensation and eventually became the basis for the book, which was ultimately made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I am talking about Julie and Julia and I have been waiting all summer for the movie. I can report that it was definitely worth the wait.

The book, like the movie, is not really about cooking or food or even Julia Child. It is about believing in something long and hard enough to stick with it--even after publishers have rejected it, agents have come and gone and the drain gets clogged with the remains of beef aspic. It is also about having a support system that shares the belief that in the end, your dream, will prevail.

What attracted to me to the book was of course the concept of a blog turning into something bigger. That is probably what motivates a lot of bloggers--the thought that someone out there reading what they write every day could possibly turn it into something bigger and better than what it already is. The thrill that Julie has when she gets a comment is one that all bloggers share--the thought that someone is reading what they are writing and cares enough about it to have an opinion.

The book, however, did not have as much of the Julia Child story as the movie does and this is where the belief concept truly comes into play. It took eight years to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published--eight years of nibbles and positive feedback followed by rejection and revision and more rejection, more revision from publishers who found it too big, too stiff, too complicated. In the end, the sheer luck of it all--epitomized by one editor who, perhaps on a whim or perhaps out of curiosity, decided to try the recipe for the famous beef stew (boeuf bourgignon)for herself and found it delicious--is truly astounding. What if she hadn't followed the directions perfectly? What if she had overcooked it or added too much salt? What if she was a vegetarian?

The moral of course is never to give up, a la both Julie and Julia, even though there are many detours and bumps along the way. Whether or not any of us have a project or a dream that truly will change the world is irrelevant--the important thing is to never stop believing it can.

Go see the movie. And then go out to eat!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Calling All Chestnuts

Over on the official Secretariat website, they are looking for a chestnut horse to play the starring role in the upcoming Disney film about the Triple Crown winner. Here is the official announcement, in case you are harboring a Big Red look-alike in your barn.

(August 6 2009) - In preparation for the shooting later this year of the upcoming Walt Disney Pictures' movie "Secretariat", Mayhem Pictures, the producers of the film, will conduct an open, online "casting call" for horses to portray the legendary 1973 Triple Crown winner.

Interested horse owners may email photographs of their equine, big-screen hopeful to Applicants must also complete an online Secretariat casting form at, where additional information about the casting call can also be found. All photographs will be personally reviewed by the lead wrangler for "Secretariat", Rusty Hendrickson, who was also in charge of horse selection for such recent major motion pictures as "Seabiscuit" and "Dreamer".

"The three main qualities I'm looking for in a horse to portray Secretariat are looks, temperament and soundness," said Hendrickson. "A big flashy chestnut would obviously have an inherent advantage, but I'm going to need at least two ‘main Secretariats and perhaps four stand-ins. I know that he was one of a kind, but we'll do the best we can. A calm temperament is particularly key, especially when multiple takes are involved. But applicants need not feel that they must have an identical looking horse to be considered. We can do wonders with equine makeup for the white facial markings and the three white socks. Our horses need to be sound—but racing experience is not a necessity. And Secretariat's short back and round hip are somewhat reminiscent of American Quarter Horses, so owners of that breed should also feel free to make submissions."

"We feel we have a compelling story to tell in our movie, and we want the imagery to be as accurate as possible," said Mark Ciardi, producer for Mayhem Pictures. "This Secretariat casting call will help us to find the very best Secretariats possible to portray the iconic chestnut champion."

"The selection of the horses to portray Secretariat is a matter of great interest to me," said Penny Chenery, Secretariat's distinguished owner. "I am delighted Disney is embracing the challenge of finding the best representative for my handsome colt."

Any bets on how many applications they will receive? My guess is in the thousands. It will be interesting to see if they cast a seasoned actor or an "unknown." And how wonderful would it be if they used a rescued horse to play one of the greatest racehorses of all time? That would be a story in itself.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Past Due

In the "Your Word vs. My Word" department, comes news from Jeff Mullins, trainer of I Want Revenge (who was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby from the race) that IEAH Stables owes him $40,000 in fees related to the care, training and riding of the colt. In case you need a refresher course, this is the same IEAH, under the leadership of Michael Iavarone, that campaigned Big Brown (including the steroids and Belmont fiasco).

Mullins sent a letter to New York State Racing and Wagering Board general counsel, Robert Feuerstein, stating that IEAH has failed to pay its bills. "I urge the New YOrk State Racing and Wagering Board and NYRA to immediately put a freeze on (IEAH's) horseman's account in an effort to assure that all of their past due financial responsibilities are met before they are paid any purse monies," Mullins wrote, according to a report in Bloodhorse.

This latest financial scandal joins the lawsuit filed by co-owner David Lanzman against IEAH, alleging the syndication violated its contract by subsequently selling more than 10% of its share of the colt without notifying Lanzman. IEAH countered with the assertion that Lanzman failed to disclose injuries to the colt that forced his removal from the Derby.

Tit for tat, perhaps, but to me it sounds like a lot of ill feelings are floating around with regard to the way that IEAH does business. None of which surprises me. These are people who treat thoroughbreds as commodities, not horses.

I hope Mullins gets his money but I also don't think that the NYRA is going to suspend IEAH's account simply because they have too many other horses in training that would be affected. I would also wager that there are a lot of unpaid bills floating around the thoroughbred world these days and that Mullins may simply have to wait his turn.

None of which makes the practice of "stiffing" your trainer, rider and vets for services rendered pertaining to the care of your horse "right" but unfortunately it happens more often than you think. Bravo to Mullins for bringing it out in the open--let's hope it gets him paid.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Smarty Jones Talking Back?

In more racing news, one of Smarty Jones' sons, Backtalk, is making quite a name for himself as a two year old. He is currently undefeated in three starts, having recently won the Grade II, 150,000 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. He also won the Bashford Manor Stakes, (Grade III) at Churchill Downs on July 3.

Rumor has it that this son of Smarty is Derby-bound if he stays well and all proceeds according to plan. Backtalk is owned by Goldmark Farm and trained by Tom Amoss, who is reveling in this up and coming two year old.

"I'm very excited," he noted. "These don't come around in my barn often and I'm certainly grateful to Goldmark Farm for the opportunity."

Back Talk, whose mother is Apasionata Sonata, won his latest race by a neck over Enumerate who was ridden by Edgar Prado and who got stuck in traffic. Backtalk hung in there and held off a late charge by both Enumerate and Louisvilleluminary, bringing his career earnings to $180,098. He went off the favorite at 3-2.

We all know how quickly things can happen in this business, but for now the thought of a son of Smarty perhaps racing a son of Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby is a snapshot well worth considering.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Seems Like 40 Days and 40 Nights

We have beset by floods here and the aftermath has been horrendous. Mud slides on major roadways. Trees downed and creeks overflowing on top of storm sewers backing up. There is nowhere for the water to go.

It seems that we are in for another round according to the forecasts. Typically we get the weather that Kentucky gets the following day so if that pattern holds, this photo of Churchill Downs foretells another disaster headed out way.

I also learned that the Kentucky Derby Museum, where many of the Barbaro artifacts are currently on exhibit was flooded. No word yet on the condition of items on the Museum floor, but apparently many of the archives in the basement were saved by the efforts of a human chain.

We may need an ark soon....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Oleander Leaves Poson Horses

Horrible news out of Rancho Santa Fe in California where a barn full of prize saddle breds has apparently been poisoned by someone who mixed oleander leaves in with their feed. Oleander is fatal to horses and one was already "down" by the time the grooms discovered the leaves in the early morning hours.

Two of the sickest horses were rushed to the nearby equine hospital where they are expected to recover after intravenous treatment. The others were given charcoal to flush out the toxins and will be closely monitored.

Oleander is bitter and many horses will not eat it because of the taste. But clearly whoever did this knew that many would, especially if it was mixed in with their feed. It is apparent that whoever did this knew what they were doing.

How horrible! Many of the horses in the barns were champion saddle breds that were boarded at the facility. The owners claim they have no "enemies."

I hope that whoever did this is brought to justice swiftly. To think that there are those among us who would maim and kill innocent animals who were being well kept is beyond belief and truly gives one pause.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The WOW Factor!

So the buzz this AM is still all Rachel Alexandra and she is worth every bit of noise. Not only did she blow away her male contenders in the Haskell on Sunday but she almost broke the track record IN THE SLOP held by Majestic Light and BET TWICE!!!! Check out the video of her race and see for yourself. I think she is one awesome filly.

Earlier in the day, the rain was horrendous and there were a number of mishaps on the track apparently blamed on the sloppy conditions. Many of the 37,090 spectators feared for Rachel's safety but in the end, no one could dispute the fact that she is the reigning queen of the track. Could she beat the older Zenyatta? A question that may not be answered since owner Jess Jackson vows not to let Rachel run in the Breeder's Cup and Zenyatta does not seem to be making any plans to come east.

So will Rachel blow them away once again in the Travers at the end of the month? Stay tuned. In the meantime, will Rachel become the heroic icon that say Seabiscuit was? Has she captured the general public's imagination or is her fan base confined to the racing world? Let me know what you think.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Thanks for Saving My Life--Dog Style

The picture above has been floating around on the internet but is worth bringing to your attention.

The Doberman is pregnant. The fireman had just saved her from a fire in her house,
rescuing her by carrying her out of the house into her front yard, then he continued to fight the fire.

When he finally got done putting the fire out, he sat down to catch his breath and rest.

A photographer from the Charlotte , North Carolina Newspaper, noticed the dog in the distance looking at the fireman.

He saw the Doberman walking straight toward the fire fighter and wondered what she was going to do.

As he raised his camera, she came up to the tired man who had just saved her life and the lives of her unborn babies and kissed him just as the photographer snapped this photograph.

As they say, when you save an animal's life, they know it for life.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hold 'Em Steady

Ever wonder how important a jockey's posture and movement are to the outcome of a race? Well so did a team from the Structure and Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College in the UK. According to a recent report on NPR, based on a study recently published in the journal Science, jockeys use the laws of physics to help their horses run faster.

The general idea is for the jockeys to remain as steady and "weightless" as possible even as the horse beneath them excels to speeds in the range of 40 mph. They do this by crouching as low as possible on the horse for almost the entire distance of the race, which means that their legs and arms are absorbing most of the impact, working like pistons.

Think it's easy? Just try working out on the Equicizer, a machine that simulates the motion of a horse. There is one on display at the Museum of Racing in Saratoga and you can try for yourself. Trust me, it is quite a workout! Your legs and arms will remind you the next day.

It is training on devices like the Equicizer that enable jockeys to maintain their steady "weightless" crouch for most of the race. In effect, the jockeys have adjusted their riding style to minimize what is known in physics as inertial losses--the energy that horses spend to bounce their riders out of these steady, "weightless" states.

Turns out the crouching riding style was developed by an American jockey named Tod Sloan. When Sloan moved to England in 1897, jockeys started copying his style. In this way, the low riding position became universal since crouching stances reduced winning race times by more than 5%.

Over the years, jockeys have concentrated on mastering the motionless, crouch position that has become the signature stance of the sport. Shortening the stirrups as high as possible has also contributed to faster and faster race times.

Next time you watch a race, watch and see how still the jockey holds himself and see if there is any correlation between his/her stance and the outcome of the race.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Animal Behavior

Over on my H-animal List Serv, an academic List-Serv for those with an interest in animal studies, there is an ongoing debate about the definition of a "non-human." Something along the lines of "is a non-human an animal and is an animal a non-human?" The general idea is to try and define what we call those who have fur, tails and four feet in terms that do not apply to those who have skin and two feet. You get the picture. It is complicated.

Well it turns out that the behavior of those we call animals is equally as elusive. An article in the New York Times details Daniel Levitis' quest to define "animal behavior" for a course, by the same name, in which he was serving as a teaching assistant. To his surprise, he discovered that there is no universal definition of the term nor do biologists agree with each other on what a behavior actually is.

To come up with a definition, Levitis and his team came up with a survey in which they list 13 "potentially diagnostic" definitions about behavior and 20 instances of natural phenomenon. Respondents could agree or disagree with each statement, some of which contradicted each other.

They're tricky. Things like the statement: "Behaviors are always actions," which contradicts the "inaction" of an animal because of the weather (think hibernation for example) and pinpoint just how difficult it is to determine whether what animals do is a behavior. "We didn't have complete consensus for any item on the survey," said Mr. Levitis.

Nonetheless, the researchers came up with a definition of the term. "As they pitch it, a behavior is the internally coordinated response that an individual or a group makes to a stimulus. The response can be an action or lack of action. The stimulus can come from inside or out."

All of which leaves lots of room for interpretation and may or may not put an end to the discussion. Which may be the point. If you think about a definition and come up with one, that may be a behavior. But so is the fact that you think about it and don't.