Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mutt Match

Looking for a new career? Here's one that dog trainers Liz Maslow and Meg Boscov dreamed up that is easily replicable: mutt matchmaker. As in pairing the potential dog owner with the perfect shelter dog. It's a great idea.

The premise is simple enough. Maslow and Boscov meet with the owners-to-be who want to adopt a shelter dog and explain their criteria: not too big, good with children, must not jump, easy to walk, etc. List in hand, Maslow and Boscov comb the local shelters and test potential dogs, using props such as a large doll to resemble a small child.

According to Mychelle Blake, a spokeswoman for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the concept is a great one. "Having a trainer go with you [to select a dog] is invaluable," she noted. "That border collie may be cute, but it's going to herd your children around, and it's going to drive you crazy because it needs mental stimulation."

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer details the intense scrutiny with which Maslow and Boscov size up potential picks. Dogs in the running for a family with small children had to pass among other hurdles, the food test, in which the dog is touched by a fake hand on a stick--so that the trainers don't lose a real one--while eating and then has its food taken away mid-meal. The trainers check out a dog's temperament by playing with it, examining its ears, paws, tails and observing how it reacts to other people and dogs.

Some dogs are easily rattled and skittish--not a good match for a family with small children. Others are shy and retiring, also not a great fit. The trainers are relentless in their pursuit and are willing to travel distances to shelters that the adoptive family might not even consider.

So far, Mutt Match has placed six dogs within its eight month existence. They ask the adoptive family to make a $200 donation to the shelter from which their pooch is rescued. The fee also includes a training session for the adopted pet and its new family and the trainers offer a discount on future training sessions.

Sounds like a replicable model to me and one that would certainly ensure that rescued pets remain in their forever homes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kewstone Wallis' New Home

This is a feel-good story about following your heart. 26 year old Kate Miller rescued a horse she had fallen in love with as a six year old and then a world renowned veterinarian rescued Kate from going into debt to care for her.

It begins with a horse name Keystone Wallis who, in her day, won about $600,000 as a harness racer. She was a productive broodmare who produced 14 foals that collectively sold for more than $300,000. And she was the horse of Kate Miller's dreams. She followed her career ever since she was a young girl of six, attracted to the mare because of her grey, now totally white, coat.

Imagine Miller's surprise when she spotted Keystone Wallis among the listings at a horse auction in Delaware, Ohio. "I knew no one would want her but the killers," she said. "I just had to buy her."

So she did--which wasn't easy for the assistant director of admissions for Arrgosy University Online Programs who lives in Pittsburgh. But she scraped together some money (including donations from friends), and drove to Ohio for the action, where she bought her dream horse for $150.00 A friend hauled her to a barn in Ohio, where she boarded her for $10.00/day. Even that was going to put Miller over the edge very quickly.

Somehow the story made its way into the harness racing community and Ellen Harvey, executive director of Harness Racing Communications wrote a story about the save which was read by Dr. Patti Hogan, in a harness racing magazine. For those of you who don't know Dr. Hogan, she is the vet who saved Smarty Jones' eye (among other accomplishments) when he was injured in a freak starting gate accident as a two year old. She is also one of head vets at the new Ruffian Equine Medical Center, near Belmont Park.

Hogan was so impressed by Miller's devotion to Keystone Wallis that she "adopted" her, offering to care for her for the rest of her life at her own Fair Winds Farm. In fact, she featured Keystone Wallis on her personal Christmas card this year.

"She has a lot of personality. She is sweet, inquisitive and easy to handle," says Hogan of her new charge. "We will let her live out her days as a horse. She deserves it."

Proof that what goes around does indeed come around. And proof that good deeds do beget more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Of Rabbits and Angels

We all know that animals can help people through many difficult times simply just by their companionship. Horses, dogs, cats are therapeutic in many types of healing. But a recent story in USA Today demonstrates that pet rabbits have joined the fold of therapy animals.

It seems that a woman in St. Louis who had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband finally made the decision to set herself free. She left with only the clothes on her back and her pet rabbit, who she named Ruby Angel because of a mark on her nose that looked like an angel. They had made do on the streets but when the weather became cold, the woman knew she had to re-locate to a shelter for battered women. The trouble was, they didn't take pets.

So she made a heartfelt call to the House Rabbit Society in St. Louis who also made an exception to their rule of not taking pet rabbits from individuals only shelters, and found a foster home for Ruby Angel. The woman is putting her life back together slowly and so, it seems, is Ruby Angel.

To begin with, the rabbit's front teeth, which were knocked out by the woman's husband, are growing back since rabbit's teeth continually grow. And when the rabbit was spayed, the cancer that was discovered in her uterus was removed. Since it had not spread, the rabbit recovered completely.

But there's more. Saving Ruby Angel and her owner so inspired the volunteers of the House Rabbit Society in St. Louis, they began collecting clothing for other victims of domestic violence and have been delivering it by the truckload to shelters for battered women. "So many women will benefit from Ruby Angel's story," says Joy Gioia, head of the House Rabbit Society in St. Louis. "She has truly touched peoples' hearts."

As they say, 'tis the season.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sad News for the Mustangs

It seems that a legal technicality has prevented Judge Paul Friedman from granting a motion to stop the round-up of more wild mustangs on December 28, this time from the Calico Mountain Complex herd management areas in Nevada. It is extremely frustrating that the judge agreed with the plaintiffs, In Defense of Animals, that the Bureau of Land Management has no authority to transport healthy horses to overcrowded holding pens, but because the plaintiffs did not raise this argument in their brief, denied the injunction.

Sounds like the lawyers for In Defense of Animals did a bang-up job at oral arguments, but failed to support their testimony in writing. What is especially frustrating is the fact that the judge appeared to side with their logic but could not uphold it because it was not documented in their brief.

His reasoning, as the reasoning of the plaintiffs, is of course, common sense and something Madeleine Pickens, among others, has been saying for some time. How can the BLM round up more horses when they are unable to adopt out the ones that are currently crowded into their holding facilities, and being paid for by taxpayer dollars. The argument about decimating the feeding grounds is just not going to hold up much longer.

This hearing is fair warning to BLM that the judge thinks their practice of keeping wild horses in long term holding facilities is illegal but it also does not offer any solutions to or penalties for the status quo.

If you feel strongly about this issue, the Animal Law Coalition urges you to contact your congressman.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Faith Walks (literally)

Have you heard about Faith, the "junkyard" dog born without front legs, who still manages to walk? Well it is a terrific story about the power of persistence and love.

Faith is owned by Jude Stringfellow, who is also an English professor. Using peanut butter and patience, she taught Faith to walk on her hind legs, which she has done in many venues, including the television sets of most major talk-shows. She had even toured with Ozzy Osbourne. But her most cherished tour of duty has been to visit veterans' hospitals across the country.

You see, Stringfellow's son, Reuben, the one who originally rescued Faith, is an Army E-4 specialist currently stationed in Alaska. He is scheduled to end his military service (which has included tours in Iraq) on January 1, 2010 and return home.

Visiting the veterans' hospitals hits home for Jude as well as for the many veterans who continue to be inspired by Faith. "There is a lot of crying, pointing and surprise," says Stringfellow. "From those who have lost friends or limbs, there can be silence. Some will shake my hand and thank me, some will pat her on the head. There is a lot of quiet, heartfelt, really deep emotion."

Stringfellow has written two books about Faith and is at work on her third, titled, Faith Walks. 'Tis the season to be reminded that hope comes in all sorts of packages.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

News of Lenny

Lentenor, Barbaro's younger brother, has been nominated for the Tropical Park Derby at Calder racetrack on January 1. This is a surprise move since he has not yet broken his maiden but there is no guarantee that he will get into the field. Popular wisdom also holds that Michael Matz may enter him in the 2nd race at the same park that day--a maiden race at 6 furlongs on the dirt in case he does not get into the Stakes.

I wouldn't bet the house on Lentenor running on the dirt track at Calder. It has tight turns and horses usually need to train there to win. The turf is more consistent across all tracks and barring a heavy downpour, it should be more of what Lentenor is used to. I will even go so far to say that if weather forces them to take the Derby off the turf, they will scratch Lentenor rather than run him on the dirt at Calder.

(You will note that I was obviously dead wrong about Tampa Bay Downs on the 26th so note all predictions are just that!)

If he does not get into the Derby, look for Lentenor to make his 2010 debut at Gulfstream during its first week. The dirt track there is more forgiving if they want to go that route. But I hope by then it will be a moot point.

Personally, I hope he gets in to the Tropical Park Derby. That race does not traditionally come up as a "big one" in terms of entries and it just might be the unconventional strategy that Lentenor needs to establish himself as a contender for that other Derby.

Keep your fingers crossed and note that the January 1 entry will keep Lentenor's pattern of running on or near holidays intact!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry and Bright

Enjoy!! This is too good to miss!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

With Apologies to Samuel Clemens

'Twas the night before Christmas
And having been to the park
My dogs were conked out
Much too tired to bark.

They usurped the bed
Pillows and all,
Amos stretched out
In his usual sprawl.

Dreaming of groundhogs
And deer they chased
Treats they consumed
And bones they misplaced.

They looked so peaceful
I knew from the sight
It was destined to be
Another three dog night.

From our house to yours
Wherever animals rule
We wish you a comfy and joyful
Celebration of yule!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Horses of the Decade

Over on, Jeremy Plonk has posted his list of the most influential horses of the decade. Guess who is #1: Barbaro. And I quote:

"Barbaro changed the way even we hardened racing fans look at the health of a horse, not to mention opening the public's eyes as to how much the racing industry can potentially care for one of its own."

He goes on to mention that other parts of Barbaro's legacy include veterinary advancements and his "careful preparation" leading up to the Derby which "single-handedly changed the way the nation's trainers looked at how they would space the prep races of future Derby contenders." Remember all that furor over five weeks between races? Now it seems the norm.

Other horses in Plonk's list are Curlin, Smarty Jones, Eight Belles, Rachel Alexandra and of course Zenyatta. I agree with him on all his picks but still wonder whether or not Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have made the leap from the sports pages to the front pages. They may be cult heroes but I maintain they are heroes only within the sport of racing. Smarty Jones, by contrast, had mainstream appeal, evidenced by the fact that, as Plonk points out: "He drew 120,139 fans to Belmont, a whopping 17,000 more than any other race in the series' history."

Only one horse on the list made it into Time magazine (as opposed to Sports Illustrated or ESPN) and that was Barbaro. And only one horse continues to pop up in the headlines (when his sibling's run) and that is Barbaro. Smarty Jones' mainstream fame lasted, according to Plonk, five weeks.

Plonk gives Honorable Mentions to Afleet Alex, Funny Cide, Medaglia d'Oro and Rags to Riches. I think he has his list just about right. Can you think of any you might add?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like. . .

We had quite a snow event over the weekend and Philadelphia ended up with 23 inches! In our neck of the woods, the drifts are actually deeper and some are smaller but overall we have about 18 inches or so, depending on where you measure. This dog statue is in our front driveway and it stands a good 36 inches. As you can see, it is practically covered but we think this is a result of blowing, not actually straight accumulation. Still it is impressive!

The firgure in red is one of my sons on snowshoes (!) and you can see on Sam how deep the snow is in the back yard. Let's put it this way, when I forced open the door to let them out yesterday morning, they plopped down in the snow drifts and looked at me. it wasn't until I went out with a shovel and cleared a path (with them trailing behind me, their personal snow plow) that they ventured forth to do their business. And believe me they did need a clearing because the snow was that deep!

The forecast is for cold dry sunny days this week and we may get another storm on Christmas Eve, but this time it might be rain. In any event, we will surely have a white Christmas. And now that the worst shoveling is over, we will all enjoy the scenery.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Dasher and Dancer...

Reindeer are making a huge splash in the UK lately--as popular tourist attractions in garden centers. Yes, you heard that right. Many garden centers across England are becoming homes to reindeer in hopes of boosting their foot traffic and consequently sales. Three years ago, as a precursor to the influx of reindeer across the UK, the quarantine period for imported reindeer was reduced from four months to just one.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, these reindeer live the life of well, Santa's most beloved fleet for those few weeks before Christmas and then "live a miserable existence for the rest of the year." It seems that the Brits who import the reindeer do not know much about caring for them, unlike, say the Laplanders who have been herding them for years.

Pity the poor reindeer but also pity the new owners like the woman who was attacked and trampled by her three year old Mr. Frosty, who was, according to those who know, simply looking for a mate.

Many reindeer in Britain are being kept in conditions that are the antithesis of their natural habitats: small pens or enclosures. Reindeer in the wild like to graze and roam. Those confined can develop hoof problems, parasites and worms. Their antlers, used for protection in the wild, can fail to develop. And many are kept in small groups--two or maybe three--while reindeer prefer to lives in herds. In addition, the climate of England may in fact be too warm for these animals used to the Artic.

The bottom line: it is fine to expose children to wild reindeer for a week or so, but then these animals need to be returned to the wild where they belong. At the very least, Santa needs to keep more than one team in training. . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chihuahua Overload

In what appears to be a California-only phenomenon, the shelters there are overflowing with chihuahuas. In fact, according to Megan Webb, director of Oakland animal services, "there are so many chihuahuas at shelters in the Oakland area, they have started shipping the dogs out of state."

To what do they owe this plethora of petite pooches? The media of course--in the form of such celebrities as Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus who have been photographed toting these dogs, usually in designer totes.

It appears that fans have even imitated these celebrities' penchants for owning these tiny dogs and then abandoning them. And to think that imitation in the sincerest form of flattery. Try telling that to those dogs now making their homes in overflowing shelters.

I seem to remember a similar run on Chihuahuas a few years back when the Taco Bell commercials featured a talking version of the pooch. And with that came lots of warnings that, despite their size, Chihuahuas are not pushovers as pets. In fact, they are tiny dogs with a lot of energy and a lot of personality--read big dogs in small dogs clothing--that need everything that all dogs need: food, shelter, exercise, companionship and care.

In other words, this dog is not a fashion accessory. Their size makes them vulnerable to physical injury and in- and over-breeding can cause aggression.

Of course, the grass is always greener. While shelters in California may be overflowing with Chihuahua, the ones in New York would love them. "We never have enough supply for the huge consumer demand for small dogs," notes Gail Buchwald, senior vice-president overseeing the ASPCA adoption center in New York City.

Pet air anyone?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Equine ER

I recently finished a good read for those of you who ever wondered what it was like in an equine veterinary hospital. The title is: Equine ER and the author is Leslie Guttman, who spent a year shadowing the vets at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.

Guttman writes well and she has a flair for suspense, so you never know the outcome of the horses involved in each chapter until the end. She covers a lot of territory in term of types of horses as well as types of conditions that equine vets deal with--everything from the fragile and expensive thoroughbreds with orthopedic injuries to the equally highly valued companion horses that run into fences.

The book is also fairly recent so she touches on the Eight Belles tragedy, some of the Barbaro story and the other Matz trained horse, Chelokee who won the first Barbaro Stakes and was injured in a stakes race on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs in 2008.

Also Barbaro fans will recognize some of the players in the equine veterinary world such as Dr. Scott Morrison, who is based at Rood & Riddle and consulted on Barbaro's feet during the later stages of his life.

Not too long, a fast read and interesting for those who ever wondered about the life of an equine vet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Burn Those Calories!!

Lately Phoebe has been very interested in what lies beneath the piles of dried grasses that populate our park. Most of the time it is birds but there must be something with a tail because she gets so absorbed in chasing the scent of these critters that she will not come, even when tempted with a treat. Phoebe rarely turns down food so whatever is there must be very distracting.

In the meantime, it seems as if I am spending the better part of our walks backtracking, traipsing after Phoebe over hills and dales and brush and thorns and muck, and pleading (well maybe sometimes commanding) with her to return to the trail. All of which must be burning a lot of calories.

At least that is what a recent article in the London Daily Mail reports. A British study found that, on average, dog owners get more exercise walking their pet than people with gym memberships. On average, the study found that pet owners walk their dogs twice a day for about 24 minute, which totals 5 hours and 38 minutes per week.

In addition, the average dog owner indulges their dog in about three long walks each week, which adds about 33 minutes to the total. Non-pet owners spend about 1 hour and 20 minutes a week exercising, with or without a gym membership. And far worse, almost half of non-pet owners do nothing.

According to a spokesman for the pet health care company, Bob Martin, for which the study was done, "A couple of short walks a day soon adds up and this research shows that it amounts to more time than people spend in the gym."

May studies have shown the therapeutic effects of pet ownership on loneliness and depression. But this one confirms what pet owners already know: walking is good exercise for those on both ends of the leash.

But don't tell Phoebe.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Time is Anything But Timely

The bane of many freelancer's existence (myself included), is getting paid. Every publication has a different system and most involve submitting a ream of "independent contractor" related paperwork each time you write for them.

And then there is the pre-or post publication policy. I am actually hard pressed to think of anyone who pays you before publication--as in when you sign a contract. As to how long it takes after the article comes out, well that is also up for grabs. Let's just remember that you contract for these articles months before they are published, to meet their deadlines. But they seem to have their own set of rules when it comes to reimbursing you for making them look good.

This is not a new gripe. It is as old as the profession but it seems that lately, across the board, payment is taking longer and longer. However, things reached a new level at Time, Inc. recently where they instituted a new policy to speed up payment for their freelancers. You pay them.

You heard me right. J. P. Morgan, which administers the company's invoicing, sent out an email with the instructions to Time's stable of freelancers. Called "Pay Me Now," it offers you the option of getting paid in as little as three days by relinquishing 4% of your fee. You heard me correctly--you pay Time, Inc. for paying you for work you have done for them.

Of course, if you wait the promised 30 days, you get to keep the entire fee. But I have heard through the grapevine that Time RARELY pays in 30 days. Sounds to me like they are admitting they are slow and now want to charge those who are already making them look good, for paying their bills on time.

Something ironic about Time, Inc. charging for paying in a timely manner. Once again, don't let your children grow up to be freelancers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lenny Works!

The blog-o-sphere is all atwitter with the possibility that Lentenor may race again before the end of the year, hopefully breaking his maiden while he is still a two year old.

He worked out at his Florida base, Palm Meadows Training Center yesterday, working four furlongs in 51, a respectable breeze (not all out pace but a little more than a leisurely jog). This pattern follows his previous workout about ten days to two weeks before a race and also indicates that he came back well after his last outing at Aqueduct. The fact that it was a breeze was significant, indicating that he is still in active training.

All eyes are pointed to Tampa Bay Downs on December 26, where two maiden races are on tap: one on the turf and one on the dirt. Michael Matz has been running a fair number of horses at Tampa Bay in the last couple of days which indicates that he has stalls (and most likely staff) on site. All of which should make for an easier shipping experience for Lentenor, although by now he seems to be a seasoned traveler.

More than anything else, the fact that he worked out gives us insight into Lentenor's character, which by all indications seems to be very consistent. To date, he has shown that he is an even tempered two year old, who comes out of races well and enjoys competing. He also has no problem shipping and seems to take to various track surfaces.

My vote is for the 26th at Tampa Bay Downs. The big question is turf or dirt and I might even go so far as to suggest that Matz may enter him in both and see how the races shape up. I think this horse wants to go a distance which is why the 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf is probably the most logical choice, but Matz wants him to break his maiden which is why the 6 furlong dirt race may be an option, especially if it comes up as an easier race.

The point here is that Lentenor's connections would dearly love him to break his maiden before the year ends and begin competition as a three year old at the next level. Let's hope the Jackson's get a late Christmas present from their very promising two year old!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weiss Walkie

A few years back, I remember going to an open-house at one of our local pet supply stores with an animal communicator who advised me on all sorts of things about Phoebe, including why (at the time) she was so stubborn on a leash. Part of her demonstration involved some sort of rope-type leash that she wrapped around Phoebe's belly in some type of harness hold, and lo and behold, she no longer pulled.

Of course I bought one of these rope gizmos but I never mastered the art of putting it on properly so it hangs in my leash collection to this day. Imagine my surprise when I read about the newest leash contraption for pullers--the Weiss Walkie. Invented by Emily Weiss, Ph.D. a certified animal behaviorist especially for shelter dogs who are not trained to walk on a leash, the Weiss Walkie clips onto the dog's collar and wraps around its belly. Amazingly, it works. And it looks like it is easy to use.

It works by a combination of dog psychology and dog physiology. When the dog pulls, the rope exerts pressure around the dog's chest and his normal instinct is to slow down or back up. And there is something actually very calming for the dog about being wrapped around its belly.

Whatever the reason, shelter workers rave and I am now thinking of investing in one for Sam. Phoebe no longer pulls--in fact compared to Sam she is angel. But Sam is so strong that it is dangerous and difficult to walk him on a leash--especially in and out of the grooming salon or the vet.

Of course, it all might be a phase--witness the calm Miss Phoebe--but I may not last that long!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Luke and the Boys in Princeton

On Saturday, I drove up to Princeton New Jersey to catch up with Luke and the boys who were spending the day at SAVE animal shelter. There was a huge crowd waiting to have their photos taken with the boys decked out in Santa hats for the occasion and everybody was most interested in hearing about Luke's adventures.

It was also a reunion of sorts for Luke with Hudson and Murphy who had been sidelined for the last couple of days with sore limbs. The plan is for them to take a two week break while Luke journeys home to spend some time with his family.

But first, the boys are going to invade the Big Apple! For those of you are in the area, they plan to be caroling in Bryant park on Friday night Dec. 18 from 6-7. A pet photographer will be on hand and all are invited to spread some howli-day cheer! For those who can only attend in spirit, follow their adventures at

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Update on Madeline Pickens

Madeleine Pickens recently sent out the following letter to her supporters that outlines the difficulties she has been having dealing with the Bureau of Land Mangement. In this latest installment, after she admits that she was encouraged by Secretary Salazar's plan to create "preserves" for the wild mustangs, "basically along the lines of the proposal I submitted for the sanctuary in Nevada," she was dismayed to learn that these "preserves" would be created in the "Midwest or East, far from the natural habitat of the wild horses." In addition, she learned of the Bureau's plans for another roundup in the not too distant future.

All of her arguments, namely that the creation of these preserves would cost the taxpayers money while hers would not, as well as the fact that the holding pens are already bursting at the seams with rounded up mustangs, make perfect sense. The problem is, of course, that the government is not very good at listening or responding to common sense. My experience has been that if a problem is not complicated, the government will find a way to make it so, even if it just to employ a few more paper-shufflers.

I do feel for Pickens who is ever so logical. "In spite of the fact that all the facilities are full, they propose to gather another 12,000 horses with virtually no place to put them," she writes. "And yet my Foundation plan to build a sanctuary using private dollars for the purchase of the land languishes on some bureaucrat's desk."

Welcome to Washington, Madeleine, where NOTHING is easy and it is a MIRACLE that anything gets done. Rest assured that Ms. Pickens is in this for the long haul and delay after delay is not only making her frustrated but determined. I think the biggest takeaway is that she is digging in her heels, urging her supporters to voice their opposition to the latest round-ups at her website.

She also has put together a very Texas-based Board of Directors that reads like a cross between the NFL and Hollywood. I truly do think she needs to add a legitimate animal advocate or two (with national experience) to give her credibility. Yes, these celebrity types will "pony" up the cash, but she needs credibility in the eyes of Washington. Money may or may not solve this situation.

In the meantime. if you feel inclined you can always let her know you're on her side.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Horse Boy

This is Rupert Isaacson signing copies of his book, Horse Boy at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. I attended a screening of his film, after which he answered questions and spoke about his journey through Mongolia on horseback with his wife and child, who has autism.

The good news is that the DVD of the film will be out in April. And the book is currently available in both hardback and paperback. And if you are looking for an engrossing story, I heartily recommend both.

Isaacson, who is a journalist and has written extensively about the bushmen of South Africa, had experience with traditional healers and when confronted with his son's devastating diagnosis decided to go to the literal ends of the earth to try and help his child. The combination of horses and non-traditional healing proved to be remarkable. I won't spoil the story for you but suffice it to say that you will be engrossed, regardless of how you feel about alternative medicine.

The truth of the matter is that whether you are walking across America to raise awareness for canine cancer or traversing the plains of Mongolia by horseback, it is all about the journey. And whatever route you take, the important thing is to focus on the steps, one by one. I was struck by how both Rupert and Luke are very much in the moment, taking in everything about the here and now rather than focusing so much on the what ifs and when. It is a great lesson.

The other is to follow your instincts--trust your gut and believe in the validity of your insights. They are usually spot on.

Enough philosophizing. Buy the book

Friday, December 11, 2009

2020 Vision of Cure for Laminitis

An update from the Fifth International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot held in conjunction with the Second Annual AAEP Foundation Equine Laminitis Research Workshop courtesy of Fran Jurga and the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Rustin Moore, Chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Services at Ohio State authored an article titled Laminitis Vision: 20/20 by 2020, which includes the premise that a cure will be found for laminitis in 2020.

As Jurga notes: "The economic and emotional toll exacted by our incomplete understanding of the disease results in frustration felt by veterinarians, owners, trainers, caregivers and the general public--many of whom came to know the disease through Barbaro."

As has been noted here and by many others, the lack of a national funding source for animal research, akin to the NIH, is hindering many efforts at finding cures for diseases that afflict only animals. Private funding, such as that provided by the Jacksons to Penn as well as similar efforts by Mr. and Mrs. John K. Castle, who endow the conference, is keeping the research afloat. But it becomes increasingly difficult to attract private funds by those not intimately connected with animals or the disease.

Let's hope that Dr. Moore's vision is accurate but off by a few years. Wouldn't that be something if they beat their own goal?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Future of Magazines

Anyone wondering what the future of magazines is going to look like? Take a look at the 2010 "Tablet" view of Sports Illustrated and tell me you don't want one.

A couple of key questions: What else will a tablet do or will it simply be a better Kindle? Can you print from this (or how will you archive the issues in case they are your clips or the story happens to be about you?) How much will a subscription cost? And where do I get one?

Here's the other very cool thing about this glimpse into the future. Words and photos still exist--in fact they are enhanced by this new technology. All of which means the profession of journalism (photos included) is not going to disappear--simply be made more relevant.

Very, very cool. Forget the goat. I want this.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All I Want for Christmas. . .

I've found what I want under the tree and in the backyard: a goat!!! What a perfect answer to the weeds, grass and leaves that keep all those noise making and gas guzzling machines like lawn movers and leaf blowers chugging along. This goat, named Wyeth, is a angora (yes, like the sweaters!) and belongs to Yvonne Post who recently "rented" him out to see what he could do to tame the weeds in Bartram's Garden, a historical property near Philadelphia.

Success on many counts, by the way. Wyeth and his buddy, Rodin chowed down on the contents of the overgrown meadow on the property. No chemicals. No controlled burn--just good old goat foraging. All of which is music to the ears of Post, who calls her goats "an experiment in the world of sustainability."

Goats have been successful foragers on many properties in my neck of the woods, like a 600 acre sanitary landfill and a 21 acre waste water treatment plant. They come cheaper than their human cleanup counterparts and seem to enjoy the varied diet that comes with many kinds of terrain. They are especially fond of thistle, fallen leaves and weedy grasses, not to mention Oriental bittersweet and purple loosestrife. "They'll eat and eat and eat, then sit and digest," says Post.

All kidding aside, I am not sure they would make great backyard companions for my canines, nor do I truly have a specific weed problem, but it does give one reason to pause. According to Post, her goats are "big, huge babies" who come when they're called. Still sounds tempting--and you don't have to walk them!!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program

When I was at the Penn Vet School last week with Luke Robinson and his dogs, I learned about a wonderful new program that is being run by the department of oncology. Remember how Luke's mission has evolved over his walk into something called comparative oncology--that is the relationship between human and animal cancer. In other words, all cancers are related and learning about animal cancer can shed some light on human cancer.

To advance this knowledge, Penn has started the Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program. The goal of the program is to provide care for shelter dogs who have mammary tumors. The doctors at Penn's small animal hospital provide surgery for these dogs and follow up-care at no cost to the shelters and them help facilitate their adoptions, ideally to women who have had breast cancer.

It is a win win situation on many levels. Through molecular comparison of the tumors removed from the animals to human breast tumors, doctors gain important insights into both human and animal tumor development and progression. And by adopting these animals out to other cancer survivors, vets are giving these animals homes with people who clearly relate to their animal's condition. Follow up care is almost guaranteed as one survivor cares for the other. And don't ever underestimate the benefit that the dog survivors have on the human ones.

"This has been one of the most wonderful projects I have worked on as a veterinary oncologist," says Dr. Karin Sorenmo, head of the oncology department at Penn Vet and founder of this program. "To be able to provide care to homeless dogs without access to care and to give them a new lease on life has been incredibly rewarding for everybody involved. The fact that through this care we can improve our understanding of how breast cancer develops, and thus advance cancer research in general, doubles the reward."

If you would like to learn more about this program, you can read information here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ex-Phillies Biggest Save

Here's another reason why I am such a Phillies fan. The Inquirer ran a great article last week about form Phillies relief pitcher, Dan Plesac who rescued one of his former standardbreds from a trip to the slaughter house. Captain Zoom is living out his retirement on Plesac's farm in Indiana.

Plesac, who retired from the Phillies in 2003, always had a love for standardbreds and estimates "to have owned all or part of 150 horses" since he began playing professional baseball in 1982. When he retired from baseball in 2003, he started training standardbreds but recently returned to baseball as a broadcaster.

Captain Zoom raced for Plesac in 1999 and did not exactly burn up the racetrack, so Plesac sold him. He was subsequently passed down the line from owner to owner until he retired to stud in 2002 and actually fathered two foals. He then hit the auction circuit and Plesac believes he ended up pulling a buggy for the Amish, which left him with physical scars.

It was the internet based horse rescue groups, spearheaded by Another Chance 4 Horses, who found Captain Zoom in a horse auction, bound for slaughter. Ellen Harvey of the United States Trotting Association was able to identify Captain Zoom from a photo on the internet and contacted Plesac.

Plesac didn't think twice about offering Captain Zoom a permanent home for the price of $175.00. "I didn't want to save this horse to leave him with somebody else," said Plesac. "How in the world could I let him go who-knows-where and not save him?" Today, Plesac likes nothing more than strapping Captain Zoom to the cart and taking him for a spin around his farm.

"When I owned horses, I'd just go watch them race. When I trained them, they lived with me. They were part of me. I had much more of an emotional attachment to horses," said Plesac. "When I look at him (Captain Zoom) out there eating grass, all I can thin is, 'You hit the lottery, big boy.' We both did."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Horses as Heroes

Last week while channel surfing, I happened upon a rebroadcast of the PBS series, The American Experience, featuring Seabiscuit. Not the movie version, but the newsreel one in which Laura Hillenbrand, Red Pollard's daughter and Gene Smith, among others provide commentary.

Although I have seen this show a few times, and actually used quite a bit of the materials they quote from for my thesis, I never fail to be moved by the many dimensions of the story. It remains fascinating to me that Seabiscuit became the cult hero that he truly was, not only inspiring his jockey to recover from devastating injuries, but further rallying an entire nation to believe in itself during the depths of the Depression.

Seabiscuit, as it has been pointed out here and in many other forums, made the leap from the sports pages to the front pages, becoming one of very few horses to do so, and in the process became a national figure, worthy of emulation and adoration. Secretariat did the same thing as did Barbaro.

What is equally fascinating is the fact that despite all the hoopla surrounding Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, neither of these horses have done likewise. Proof is the simple fact that you never read about them on the front pages--only the sports pages and neither has appeared on the cover of Time or Newsweek magazine. Interesting isn't it. The two horses that could potentially inspire a legion of women, young and old, remain heroes only to those well versed in the sport.

So what does it take to galvanize a horse into national prominence? More than a successful racing career, that's for sure. There has to be that elusive "something" that captures the public's fancy and catapults them into the public eye.

I speculate that it is also more than the zeitgest of the era in which they race. We could certainly use a hero right about now, given our financial climate, and nobody seems to have draped that mantle over either of the two great horses currently vying for Horse of the Year.

I know there were fewer distractions in Seabiscuit's day--he truly was the only game in town in many places--but Secretariat managed to overcome competition from all sorts of "big" stories including Watergate and the Vietnam War.

If Rachel and Zenyatta are truly as great as they are, why are they not capturing the public's imagination the way Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Barbaro did? What do you think?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tail-Wagging Service

Imagine pulling up to the drive-through window of a convenience store and being greeted by Cody, this chocolate lab complete with the requisite uniform shirt and name tag! This is the scene that greets customers lucky enough to drive through when Cody is on duty at a BP gas station/convenience store in Clearwater, Florida.

Cody belongs to Karim Mansour, the store's owner and his window greeting tour of duty began as an innocent exercise in which Karim merely took Cody to work with him. He was working the occasionally dangerous early morning shift and thought Cody might be good company as well as a protector.

Cody was allowed to patrol the store at will and as a joke, Mansour gave him a regulation shirt. All it took was the bell that rings when a customer pulls up to the drive-through window for Cody to figure out that if he jumped up, there would likely be a person there to greet him. And so it began.

There are few, even the burly contractor-types, who don't crack a smile. It wasn't long before Cody became a veritable celebrity and Mansour saw his business improve ever so slightly. His biggest competition is the Hess superstore down the street, but lately, "people might come the extra half mile or so to get the more personal service--or just to see the dog," he said.

What can we say? Cody gets them coming and going and he certainly seems to be worth the trip!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bless the Beasts and the Children

Maybe "only in California applies," but I think the Rev. Tom Eggebeen, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, might be on to something. As NPR reported, when wondering how to increase membership at his church, Eggebeen hit upon the idea of including four legged parishioners in Sunday services. Apparently, the idea has caught on.

And while there is a bit of roughhousing and leash tangling as everyone gets settled, most say the dogs take to it as nicely as their owners, many of whom feel welcomed back into the flock. "I'll come as long as they do it," comments Vicky Rambow, owner of two mixed breeds. "This has caused me to come back" [to church].

As for Eggebeen, well he is delighted to include all members of the family, even those with fur. "Not only are they important family members, but there's more to it," he elaborates. "They belong to God, too, by gum."

Eggebeen includes a special prayer thanking God for all His gifts, "including our four-footed friends." "When God created life, he blessed every dimension of it," he elaborates. ""So we share that with all the animals of the world."

Critics may say we've taken our obsession with our pets too far, including them in religious services, but many congregations already hold a special event to bless the animals. For those who attend Eggebeen's services, there are dog biscuits at the end for good behavior.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crossing into New Jersey

Here I am yesterday with Luke Robinson (apologies yesterday for calling him Luke Richardson), Murphy, Hudson on the Philadelphia side of the Ben Franklin bridge. Luke crossed the Ben Franklin with a nice army of supporters in tow and entered his 12th state: New Jersey.

Here is Luke at the foot of the bridge, which turned out to be one mile across with a nice pedestrian lane. We had a mild day for the crossing--in the 50's with no wind and even I, who is not thrilled with heights, made it across in one piece. The only casualty was my friend Cheryl's dog Thomas (a cavalier King Charles spaniel) who had to be carried from mid point on. We took turns. We think he may have caught my agoraphobia since his vantage point was much closer to the water.

Here is Luke on the Jersey side and Cheryl is in the background taking his picture. You can see Thomas is walking at this point!
The plan now is for Luke to be in New York City by December 18 where he is going Christmas caroling with the dogs. Along the way, he will travel up Route 130 through Princeton. He traverses about 10-12 miles a day so it will be slow going but he is prepared for all conditions.
Today, Ernie and Dave, two veterans who both lost dogs to cancer, provided Luke with transportation to and from the bridge and actually transported his gear to his next stop. It is called "trail magic" and Luke attracts it like a magnet.

Remember you can follow his journey here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meet Luke Richardson

Yesterday, Luke Richardson and his two dogs, Hudson and Murphy, who are walking across the country to raise awareness for canine cancer, paid a visit to Penn's vet school where they met with the head of the oncology department and a leading researcher. It was the first time I had met Luke, although I have chatted with him on the phone and via email, and it was a most remarkable day. He is truly a man on a mission who has found his life's work.

The new buzz word for Luke is comparative oncology and it is basically the concept that cancer is cancer. That is, the cancer that effects dogs is the same cancer that effects people. It may manifest in different ways but it is the same disease. Following this logic, it makes perfect sense that if you find a cure for canine lymphoma, for example, one for human lymphoma is not far behind.

Therefore, funding research in animal oncology is also funding research in human oncology, even though very few actually do so. In fact cancer in animals usually moves more quickly than cancer in humans because their life spans are shorter so funding cancer research in animals is cost effective and efficient.

There is no one or the other--they are all connected and if it takes Luke and his beautiful dogs to put a face on this concept than so be it. I told you he has found his life's work.

Luke is at the tail end (pun intended) of his walk. He is about 300 miles away from Boston which means he has completed 1700 miles. A remarkable journey. A remarkable story and a very remarkable person.

And the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exploring the Pet Insurance Options

My mother has a new puppy--a black pug named Mia. Two of her pugs died withing three weeks of each other--one from cancer and the other from old age and disease. Needless to say, this new bundle of energy is her new lease on life.

Anyway, after the first pug was diagnosed with cancer throughout her body and organs, courtesy of the University of Penn Veterinary Hospital, the bill was enough to almost send my mother to meet her maker (God, forbid). Now this is a woman who has owned hundreds (no exageration) of dogs in her lifetime, and this was the first time I ever saw her blink an eye at a vet bill so you know it had to have been astronomical.

My point here is that the next day she asked me about veterinary pet insurance. I told her about VPI, my carrier, gave her my speech about the only time that it truly pays to get it is when the dog is a puppy, and told her to purchase the most expensive plan--Superior Coverage.

I also told her that it is NOT like human insurance--you have to do the paperwork like submit the receipts and the claim forms and shell out the money up front. Usually by the time your reimbursement check arrives, the sting of the original charge has worn off, so any money toward that amount feels like a gift.

Imagine my surprise when she decided to indeed purchase insurance, but not the plan offered by VPI. Instead she went with the AKC plan, for no clear reason, except that is the plan that her brother uses for his dog. We now know who holds more influence over my mother, but my real point here is that when I got pet insurance, there was only one game in town: VPI. Now the field is more crowded and you do owe it to yourself to carefully compare options.

While I have not checked into the AKC plan, I would imagine that the advice of getting the insurance before there are any pre-existing conditions and buying the best plan you can afford, still holds. As I have written before, the insurance, for me, is often a peace-of-mind thing. As in when your dog does have to go to Penn on an emergency basis (again God forbid) and you don't have to decide whether or not you are going to agree to an expensive procedure that might save the dog's life because there is a steep price tag attached. Somehow, knowing that you will get some of the cost back, makes it easier to fork over the credit card, at least for me.

So buyer beware and do your homework. For me, I'm sticking with what we have.

Besides, I wonder if the AKC plan will remember Mia on her birthday. Sam's card came the other day from his friends at VPI.