Sunday, January 31, 2010

Moscow's Stray Dogs

Proof that the penchant for canines is not confined to the United States comes from a fascinating article about Moscow's Stray Dogs in the Financial Times. Muscovites are enamored with pure bred dogs as well as the vast population of strays that roam the city, as Susanne Sternthal reports.

There are approximately 35,000 stray dogs that roam Moscow's capital city--which breaks down to about 84 dogs per square mile. From the photos in the article, the stray dogs closely resemble wolves and are the antithesis of the small, toy types that Muscovites love to pamper.

In fact, Andrei Poyarkov, a biologist specializing in wolves, has spent over thirty years studying this stray dog population, intrigued by among other things, their resemblance to wolves. Genetically, in fact, wolves and dogs are identical; what is different is their degree of domestication.

Interestingly enough, Moscow's stray dogs, Poyarkov believes, are somewhere between wild and tame and moving back toward the wild. He divides Moscow's stray dogs into 4 types: those that guard places (usually fenced in institutions like hospitals); those that beg from easy marks they learn to identify on the streets; those that are more or less socialized toward people but who still scavenge for food from dumpsters; and those that are the "wildest"--the predators that are not socialized toward people and who patrol the city at night.

I highly recommend the piece especially if you want to learn about Moscow's "metro dogs," strays that actually ride the metro from station to station, scavenge for food en route and have learned to expect certain handouts from certain commuters at certain times.

"Personally," says Poyarkov, "I think [strays] make life in the city more interesting."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Research Across Species Holds Great Promise

I am working an a fascinating story about the field of comparative oncology, in which tissues from dogs with various stages of mammary tumors is being analyzed in terms of its molecular composition, to determine when a tumor changes from benign to malignant. It is believed that the molecular composition of these tumors is the same in dogs as people, so there are vets as well as human oncologists involved in this research.

All of which brings me to the topic of obsessive compulsive disorder, which, researchers have just discovered, is controlled by the same gene in humans as in dogs. Of course, this finding was made possible by the discovery of the gene in dogs that controls this behavior.

Researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University have reported this finding in this month's issue of Nature Molecular Psychiatry. Edward Gins, director of medical genetics at University of Massachusetts Medical School, assisted. According to Gins, the gene identified in the study, exists in both humans and dogs.

What is interesting is that the mere presence of the gene is not always as predictor, in humans, of whether or not the person or will develop the disorder, but its presence does indicate it is more likely. In addition, the use of Prozac to treat both humans and dogs also highlights the similarities of the behavior across species.

The ethical reasons for doing research on dogs who already manifest the behavior or condition that is being studied are enormous. Rather than inject these "diseases" into animals, why not treat and study those who already have them, with the side light being the potential to improve the animals quality of life?

It is an exciting and promising window into animal research and highlights the need for a federal agency, similar to NIH, to fund ongoing work.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In Memoriam

This is the day, January 29, when three years ago, we lost Barbaro to complications of laminitis. It is a day when many Fans of Barbaro stop, pause and reflect on their journeys with and without this special horse, who inspired and continues to inspire so many to act on behalf of horses everywhere. It is a bittersweet day, as always.

This year, however, is perhaps a little less sad due, in part, to the promise that the racing careers of Nicanor and Lentenor represent. Lentenor, in particular, seems to have caught the eyes of the racing press who are still talking about his maiden race.

Jeremy Plonk, over at has made him the Number 6 pick for the Kentucky Derby, noting that he was "phenomenal in his turf return at 1-1/16 miles" and that he, the not often effusive journalist, "is giddy about Lentenor off this race." High and significant praise indeed coming from one who admitted that he wasn't part of "the heart-felt hype" prior to this performance.

Nicanor should be making his return to the turn in the Spring, another reason to look forward, not back.

No one will ever forget Barbaro. That much is certain. He touched a chord in the minds of the general public that is a throwback to the racing heroes of old and his valiant career, both before and after his injury inspired so many to do so much good.

But in his soul, Barbaro was a race horse. And for his brothers to become similar athletes is more than fitting. It is, in many ways, one of his greatest legacies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad Lust

So it's here--and I want one!

Amid all the hoopla, the ipad was launched yesterday and as predicted, it will change the way we do the things we do everyday, from answering email to reading a newspaper.

At first glance it looks like a giant iphone--which you already know, I adore--and my first reaction was, OK, a large screen is nice, but do I really need another piece of equipment.

And then I scrolled down to the tech specifications and learned all about the word processing capabilities (not to mention, spread sheets and power point presentations) and the missing link in my life was suddenly found. This is a very user friendly lap top for those of us who use our laptops as traveling computers.

The ipad is not a main computer, nor would I want it to be, but it is an amazing laptop for people like me who use their lap tops on the road and then come home and transfer things to their main computer.

Check it out on the Apple main page and be forewarned that the video may time out because so many people are watching it!

Don't worry, my name is already on the list!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Punch and Judy?

The above incident happened on January 8 at Philly Park. The two jockeys in question have been suspended but certainly this does little to improve the image of horse racing in general. Unbelievably dangerous behavior for men who make their livings riding 1000 plus pound animals at forty miles an hour. What would have happened if one actually punched the other one off?

I hate to think.

Take it outside, guys. Not on the backs of the beasts who make you what you are.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Always Take Your Cell Phone

My local dog park is a wonderful place, as many of you already know, and I have made some wonderful friends there. Today as I was walking to my car with my brood in tow, I ran into one who actually owns a beautiful golden retriever named Billy who could be Sam's clone--except Billy is about 20 pounds heavier and a bit more square than Sam.

In any event, we caught up while the dogs did their usual chase routine and she told me about Billy's latest stint as a search and rescue dog, which I am going to share with you because of the important message embedded within the tale.

It seems that Billy's dad likes to take him to the park late in the afternoons for an evening run. Their usual routine is from about 4:30 until 5:30, at which point it is pretty dark. Now I personally would not want to be tripping over tree branches or vines in the dark, but he doesn't mind it.

Last week when he was coming back to the parking lot after his walk, Billy's dad saw and heard a fire engine and an ambulance barreling up the driveway into the park. He asked them what was going on and they told him that someone had fallen in the park and called 911 on his cell phone. The firemen said that the victim's location was near the first granite steps but they had no idea where that was. Well Billy's dad did and offered to take them. But first he was told he had to leash Billy.

After frantically searching (to no avail) for a leash in the car, he called his wife who told him that the leash was sitting at home on the kitchen counter. So the firemen told Billy and his dad they couldn't come.

"OK," said Billy's dad and started walking to his car. About one minute later, the firemen were back, having determined that they had absolutely no idea where the first set of granite steps were, especially in the dark. They told Billy's dad he could show them, without a leash.

Which is what they did and when Billy found the victim, he went and sat right next to him, along with the man's dog, who was also keeping vigil. They loaded him onto a stretcher, hooked up an IV, and transported him to the ambulance, which Billy's dad had instructed them to park at the bottom of the hill. The man had broken his elbow and was in a lot of pain.

Needless to say, Billy and his dad are feeling pretty proud of themselves. All of which reminds me to tell you to always take your cell phone when you are hiking and to think about calling a person who knows the trails as well as 911. I hate to think what would have happened to that poor man if Billy and his dad hadn't been there.

We may think our dogs will save us, and they might, but a cell phone and is more reliable.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Care For Me, I'm Yours

Just in from VPI, the pet insurance company that sends your pets birthday cards (among other things), the list of the five most common canine ailments. Drum roll please:

1. Ear infections
2. Skin allergies
3. Pyoderma/Hot Spots
4. Gastritis/Vomiting
5. Enteritis/Diarrhea

Of course if you have dogs, you will probably be familiar with all of the above, but I think it is always helpful to know when an illness is routine, as opposed to life threatening. It is also important to note that both severe gastritis and severe enteritis can be life threatening.

VPI's take on the above is that prevention can ward off many of these health problems. Cleaning a dog's ears routinely is a good way to keep wax and dirt from building up. Regular bathing and grooming may help keep skin allergies, including hot spots, in check and careful diet, exercise and policing of dog toileting areas are good ways to help stave off stomach upsets.

In other words, you are responsible for preventing as well as treating your dog's routine illnesses so try not to shirk your responsibilities. Remember, your dog's health is in your hands.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Sad Loss

The art world lost a folk artist who loved his dogs. Two weeks ago, folk artist Stephen Huneck, who used his beloved labs for his muses, took a gun to his head. Apparently the downturn in the economy, combined with his own depression, were too much for him.

Huneck is best known for his wood block prints of his labs. You probably recognize the style from the picture at the top of the blog. Huneck is also known for his Dog Chapel, the unique structure he build on his property for all visitors to remember their beloved pets.

His farm in St. Johnsbury, Vermont is dubbed Dog Mountain and it recently went on the market, according to his wife, Gwen. In addition, he had to lay off his employees earlier in the week before he took his own life. "This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare," Grade told

Huneck's artwork is included in the Smithsonian Institute, new York's Museum of American Folk Art and the Contemporary Museum of Art in Sydney, Australia. It is also included in many private collections.

As many of his fans wrote, perhaps he is now at peace at the Rainbow Bridge with his beloved animals.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dog people Versus Cat People

I have a friend who has a theory about dog people versus cat people and it centers on loyalty. Dog people, she insists, are very loyal while cat people are less likely to remain steadfast in their convictions or relationships.

Interestingly enough, that is not one of the findings of a recent study conducted by a tam of psychologists at the University of Texas, Austin, who compared the two as part of a larger online study called the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project.

As CNN reports, dog people identify themselves as more social and outgoing. Cat people describe themselves as more neurotic but "open", which "means creative, philosophical or nontraditional in this context."Dog people also scored themselves higher on extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

If you get the Journal Anthrozoos, the results of the full study will be in the September 2010 issue.

And for those of you who believe that dog owners tend to look like their dogs, well, psychologist Stanley Coren of British Columbia, found some truth to that hypothesis. According to Coren, women with long hair tend to favor Spring spaniels and beagles with long ears while women with short hair were more enamored with basenjis and huskies.

More "truths" about cat and dog people can be found in the upcoming book, Some We Love, Some We hate, Some We Eat. Why It Is So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog, professor of psychology at Western Carolina University.

In the meantime, for all you cat people out there remember I'm just the messenger.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sad News about Jackson Filly

On the heels of Lentenor's impressive 3 1/2 length victory on Wednesday came the news release from Mill Ridge Farm about La Ville Rouge's aborted foal on Christmas Eve.

"I regret to inform the general public that La Ville rouge aborted her foal on Dec. 24, 2009," said Headley Bell, managing partner of Mill Ridge. "It is particularly sad for she was believed to be carrying a full sister to Barbaro. Nature can play a cruel hand, but Mr. and Mrs. (Roy) Jackson intend on breeding her back to Dynaformer this year and hope for the best."

It is sad that the mare aborted her foal this far along in her term (the baby would have been due in late March) but often this happens if something is just not right with the baby. All of which shows you how precarious this industry is, once again.

Hopefully la Ville Rouge has recovered and will be able to become pregnant once again and then carry her foal to full term. One thing we can be sure of is that she will be monitored very carefully every step of the way. It may also be that the "marriage" of these two horses may not be forever and that this could be nature's way of suggesting some new options.

Who knows? Let's just hope that all goes well going forward. And my guess is that the delay in the announcement had to do with the powers that be making very sure that La Ville Rouge was well enough to be bred again this season before they announced any developments, past or future.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lenny WINS!!!!

Lentenor is no longer a maiden having convincingly romped away from the field in yesterday's ninth race at Gulfstream. Breaking from the number 1 post position and under a strong ride from John Velazquez (who got the mount after Lezcano was thrown from a horse in the fourth race of the day), Lentenor was about a length behind the leader, Dixie Summer, until the top of the stretch when he exploded with that characteristic Barbaro second gear.

Dixie Summer set blazing fractions but Lentenor had enough in him to simply run away from his only challenger, Rock America under Kent Desormeaux. Lentenor stayed on the rail while Rock America was forced wide and then simply took off under a strong ride from Velazquez. It was an impressive victory for Barbaro's youngest brother who went off as an 11 to 10 favorite.

"We've always know he was a good horse. He's a big boy and still a bit immature, but he got a lot of experience today," Matz said. "He'd been working well. We'll see how he comes out of it and take a little time to evaluate what might be next."

Now the guessing begins again but Matz did give some clues as to Lenny's next start: a possible Allowance race for non-winners of two or maybe even a turf stakes. We will just have to wait and see.

There is a February 17th Allowance race at Gulfstream that is 1 1/8 on the turf that seems to have his name all over it, but there is also the possibility of the Fountain of Youth Stakes which is on the dirt, three days later. Either one sets up nicely for the Florida Derby, which is a month later.

Either way, even Matz mentioned the possibility of a Triple Crown race, with the following caveat: "It's much too early to say whether he'd be far enough along to consider something like that."

In the meantime, I think Lenny has found his jockey. Let's hope Velazquez keeps the mount and that the horse comes out of the race nicely. What an exciting victory!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Here She Is.....

Here she is...Horse of the year, Rachel Alexandra.

In case you hadn't heard, Rachel won the Eclipse Award on Monday night over Zenyatta, ending, at least temporarily the conversation about the reigning Queen of the Track. I say temporarily because even before the winner was announced, Jerry Moss leaked that Zenyatta would be back on the track next year, effectively un-retired.

The voting came out to 130-99 and it seems that the Preakness carries more clout than the Breeder's Cup. "Either filly deserved this award," owner Jess Jackson declared. "There has never been another year like this for fillies." Trainer Steve Asmussen, Rachel's trainer, won the award for top trainer. The National Turf Writer's Association, the Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association cast the votes.

Here's hoping that the beat goes on when it comes to these daring damsels of the dirt and that they eventually meet. "Together Rachel and Zenyatta conquered four of the best groups of males that were running last year," continued Jackson. "We're hoping that each horse taking its course may win their way to an ultimate match."

These two horses are certainly the shot in the arm that racing needs so lets hope they both stay healthy and continue their winning ways. And please, no match race.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Remarkable Creatures

I know that fossils are not technically animals, let alone horses, but the author of a new book about a woman who discovered a fossilized skeleton of a dinosaur in 19th century England, is about both and you must read it.

The author of this amazing book is Tracy Chevalier and the book is Remarkable Creatures. Chevalier also wrote (among others) The Girl with a Pearl Earing which was made into an incredible movie. I had the wonderful privilege of hearing Chevalier speak about her new book last week and it was spellbinding. And I don't use that word lightly.

Chevalier clearly has a lot of experience doing this type of thing but her presentation was fascinating. The book is based on her own visit to a small dinosaur museum in the corner of England where she has lived for about a decade. She accompanied her son and in the corner of the display area noted some information about Mary Anning, a "gifted" fossil finder from Lyme-Perry in Southern England along the coast, who was hit by lightening as a baby and survived. As she put it, "What else could a writer ask for?"

The story is about Anning and her discovery, of course, but it is also a story about the friendship Anning strikes up with one Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster who moves to the coastal town with her two sisters from London. Elizabeth's is the educated voice in the book and it is through her insights that the reader gains an appreciation for everything Mary is up against in this very male dominated profession.

It is also the story of intellectual ideas and how they come into existence because when Mary discovered this skeleton the concept of an animal that no longer existed was completely blasphemous since Religion and Science were one and the same. God created all the animals and the animals that existed were the ones he created--no more or less and the concepts of some no longer alive was heresy.

The prose is amazing. The story is riveting and regardless of whether or not you like fossils or even every considered them, you will be transfixed. I promise.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Horse Whisperer

This photo, from the New York Times, is of one Joseph Cesarelli, who is the volunteer caretaker for three horses belonging to a medieval society based on Long Island. This volunteer work, which staved off his depression during a long period of unemployment, may have led to a permanent job as a barn manager.

It is just one more example of how working with animals, in particular horses, often gives the workers a new lease on life. Cesarelli, in particular, looked long and hard (since 2002) for work and taking care of the horses, "gave [him] a reason to wake up," as he put it. "I consider this a sign of my mental health," he continued. "If I were depressed, I couldn't function. The horses' health wouldn't matter to me."

But because it does and because Cesarelli found solace, company and good old fashioned exercise, in his work, he just may have found a permanent job.

One more reason why horses seem to be particularly good for what ails you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lentenor to Race January 20th

So Lenny's next race is January 20, on the turf at Gulfstream. It is exactly the race he was entered in on the 15th (but didn't get into) and rumor has it that the Racing Secretary had enough interest in having Lentenor race there that he wrote the race for him. Hence, he is post position number 1.

His chances seem to be pretty good in this field and I predict he will go off as the favorite. The inside post may actually suit him, although there is always the chance of getting boxed in. On the rail, however, if there is clear sailing, he may just go for it and be done with this maiden bug.

Jose Lezcano is up. The stars seem to be aligned. Let's hope for a clear day, a good trip and the end of Lentenor's career as a maiden.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Lost Tail

This is a photograph from WZZM 13 online of the remains of Star's tail. The 18 year old horse, belonging to Rachal North of Grant, Michigan, had its tail cut off by thieves, presumably intending to sell the horse hair. Before it was clipped, the tail in question was "all the way down to her feet," according to North.

Star now has to wear a blanket to stay warm and the family is worried that North's 11 year old daughter's pony, named Bandit, may be next.

Horse hair, apparently is valuable to people who use it to make such things as belts, instrument strings and certain types of jewelery. At one time, horsehair was a prized stuffing for furniture and mattresses, but I always assumed that the hair in question came from shedding coats, not clipped tails.

According to information North found on the Internet, horse hair sells for between 37 to 80 dollars a pound and Star had at least 2 pounds worth. Since reporting the incident, North also discovered that other horse owners in her neighborhood also have horses who lost their tails to thieves.

These truly must be desperate thieves to resort to clipping horse tails for cash. That hair is worth so much more to the horses who use their tales to swat flies in the summer and keep warm in the winter. Star's tail will eventually grow back, but it will take 2 to 3 years.

In the meantime, here's hoping they catch the thieves with their tails between their legs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help for Haiti's Animals

Courtesy of, I bring you the following information about veterinary groups that are organizing a response to the dire situation in Haiti following Tuesday's earthquake:

The Christian Veterinary Mission, which has been on site in Haiti since the early 1980s, has trained more than 1,000 village-level animal health workers. "We are working with the Haitian people to assess the damage, respond to the immediate needs, and understand how to help once again," CVM Executive Director Dr. Kit Flowers said.

Heifer International also has worked in Haiti for more than 10 years and has multiple projects under way. They have set up an emergency fund on their website.

American Veterinary Medical Foundation also has an animal disaster relief and reimbursement fund available on their website.

If you are so inclined, I know these animal welfare organizations would appreciate your support in this crisis.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Meida Eclipse Awards Announced

San Luis Obispo County's website has announced that ESPN Radio and NBC have each won 2009 media Eclipse Awards for their coverage of the Mine That Bird story. NBC won for the documentary, "The Story of Mine That Bird" and ESPN Radio won for their live coverage of the Kentucky Derby.

NBC, if you remember, also produced and aired the Barbaro documentary so they are old hats at covering stories with what co-producer Rob Hyland calls, "lots of layers." Apparently there were lots of layers to the story of how a 50-1 colt won the Kentucky Derby.

I am more intrigued by the notion that people listen to the Kentucky Derby on the radio but I guess I would too, if I was in a car. I love what Sr. Director John Martin had to say about the medium: "It's theater of the mind. What we try to do with the Derby is to convey to the listener just how great it is to be part of what is transpiring--the ambient sounds of the jockeys, trainers and the fans."

Remember when Seabiscuit captured the attention of the nation he did it via radio and print. It wasn't until the end of his career that news reels came into existence. The announcers and the reporters who covered the races were truly wordsmiths. There is an art to making people feel like they are really there.

The remainder of the awards, including Horse of the Year (only Rachel and Zenyatta are in the running) will be announced at the ceremony on January 18 in Beverly Hills.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't Bet on It is reporting what we already knew: that 2009 was a very bad year for thoroughbred racing. At least in terms of what the industry considers to be its most significant marker: wagering.

In 2009, wagering on thoroughbred races fell almost 10%. In the United States, betting on races fell $1.3 billion. All of this means that wagering in 2009 was at its lowest level since 1996.

Surprised? Probably not. In case you are living in a cave, the economy took a drastic hit this past year, and betting on horses seems to be a non-necessary expense. As in, if you are cutting back what would be the logical choice: food or betting money? And that is just what Alex Waldrop is saying, "The overall economy was our big problem in 2009."

OK, I'll give you that. But maybe its time to look at something other than, gasp, money. With dream horses like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta attracting fans by the hundreds, perhaps the industry should look at what it did well, rather than focus on what it did poorly. In my opinion, what it did well was manage to generate interest, albeit fairly local and limited to the sports pages, for two incredible equine athletes. It was the year of the superstar woman and Rachel even appeared in Vogue!

They also managed to stage a safe and exciting Kentucky Derby (although in reality that outcome is out of the hands of mere mortals) and a great story line of the little horse that could, Mine that Bird. In fact, it was the year of the birds and if they had been smart, they would have promoted it that way.

Chirs Scherf, executive director of the TRA, had a better take on the situation: "In a year when racing was blessed with brilliant racing, featuring a storybook Kentucky Derby and Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, it is clear that the sport can still stir great public emotion. The 2009 handle figures, however, starkly illustrates a worrisome decline in the parimutuel wagering product, at least as currently constituted on a national basis."

Could it be that people genuinely love to watch good horses run and that they don't necessarily have to bet on them to get this enjoyment? What a concept.

Maybe they better start figuring out a way to make money from a genuine spectator sport. Trust me, its been done.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winning is a Matter of Scheduling

The blog-o-sphere is twittering again about Lentenor and this time there is a genuine sense of frustration about when the faithful are going to see him race again. Apparently he is entered as an "also eligible" in this Friday's ninth race at Gulfstream. Big questions as to whether or not he will get into the race abound as well as some regarding this status in the first place.

If you remember I believe this race was one of two I pegged a few weeks ago as a "likely" spot for Lentenor. Obviously Michael Matz did as well. I guess he was waiting to see how the horse was training, who else would enter the race, what the weather forecast was...whatever. But all things considered, what would have been the harm of entering him a little earlier than he obviously did to guarantee that the horse would have gotten into the main field?

Perhaps it is the issue of the fans--knowing that legions of fans of Barbaro hang on his every move, Matz probably didn't want to disappoint or overly excite the fan base. But still. Of course this is speculation on my part and maybe the race did fill up quickly, but still. Lentenor needs a race as we all know.

In the meantime, many rumors about Plan B (if there is one). At the moment, fingers are crossed to see if he gets in on Friday but the outlook is grim.

All of which reminds me how smoothly everything went for Barbaro. Races fell into place. Victories kept accumulating. He never missed a day of training. It was the most uneventful road to the Derby ever traversed.

And the moral of the story is that it does not happen that way very often.

My guess is that they may enter Lentenor in the first Maiden Special Weight race that comes up, dirt or turf, regardless of the distance just to get that bug off his back. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

In case anyone hadn't noticed, it has been COLD around here. Which is normal for January in the Keystone State. But it has also been bitterly cold in parts of the country not used to arctic blasts. (Dare we say we told you it would be a cold winter?)

Citrus growers in Florida have been challenged to keep their crops warm and horse owners all around the country are reminded to make sure that their horses have enough warm water to drink. According to Greg Meyer, extension educator for large animals at Ohio State University, water is essential to keep a horse's body temperature regulated. "We typically think of keeping horses cool with water, but water is required for energy for keeping them warm as well."

Those without heaters to thaw water troughs and tubs should even consider bringing warm water from the house. "Nobody in these temperatures would want to drink 32 degree water," he noted.

Horses don't need blankets as much as they need protection from the wind. Closing horses in barns for too long can cause disease to spread rapidly. A three sided shed may be all the protection they need. Most horses, according to Karen Waite, equine extension specialist at Michigan State University don't even need a blanket if they have full coats and are in reasonably good condition.

In the meantime, ABC News is reporting that the tropical monkeys in Miami's Zoo are not as hardy as horses. Many are getting warmed by space heaters in their cages and manatees in Ft. Lauderdale are sidling up to an electrical power plant to bask in the warm water it emits.

On the home front, my dogs seem to be adjusting nicely to the cold--they stay inside a lot!

Stay warm wherever you are!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wake Up and Touch the Screen

Another year, another decade, another chance to sing the blues about the publishing industry--especially if you are in the publishing industry. No make that, a captain of the publishing industry, as in say, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In last Sunday's New York Times, said president moaned and groaned about the fact that the heirs of William Styron (author of Sophie's Choice) had licensed the rights to some of his books, previously published by Random House, to an electronic publisher called Open Road Integrated Media.

The nerve of these heirs, according to Mr. President, who did maintain that they are acting within their legal rights (since they hold the copyrights) to publish or republish these books with whatever publisher they choose. It is not the re-publication of the books to which Mr. President objects. He objects to the fact that the heirs went elsewhere in order to do so.

And so begins the tale of what they gave up--all of the careful attention that Styron's words received when they were originally edited by the best of the best at Random House. Those who culled them, promoted them, chose the artwork for the hardcover edition of them, selected the typeface for them, in fact, according to Mr. President, made them the works of art they are today.

"Mr. Styron's books took the form they have, are what they are today, not only because of his remarkable genius but also, as he himself acknowledged, because of the dedicated work of those at Random House," he writes.

I am not about to quibble with the role that Styron's editors took in creating or sustaining his canon. But I am going to point out that the era of coddling, shaping, promoting and perhaps even caring about the authors that carry your imprint is long gone. Publishers do not care about you until you prove that they should--and that means long after they agree to publish and edit your book.

So wake up Mr. President and feel the pulse of e-books, which is, I might point out the perfect medium for books that have already been edited. If Random House wanted to make more money off of Styron, they should have been the ones to offer to re-issue his books electronically instead of letting someone else cash in on their work. Or perhaps they did and crafted a deal that put too much in their pockets, once again.

The era of publishing as an art form is dead and it is not the electronic reader or publisher who killed it. It is the presidents of industry giants who never let anyone else in.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The End of Dog Racing In Massachusetts

December 26 was the last day of greyhound racing in the state of Massachusetts. As you may recall, the voters in that state passed the Greyhound Protection Act in 2008 and the ban on the sport took effect January 1. Bill Finley wrote a fabulous article on about the takeaway for the sport of horse racing. As he puts is, "It is a cautionary tale for every other animal-related sport that doesn't do nearly enough to protect its competitors while racing and guarantee them safe, dignified retirements after their careers are over."

As we all know, the role of animals in our society has been changing and the issue of animal welfare has become a hot button. Witness the Michael Vick story. It was, as Finley points out, the animal cruelty issue that ultimately mobilized the public against dog racing.

In his opinion, it is a cautionary tale for horse racing, a sport that, as we all know, has a long way to go to take care of its own. The difference may be that for the most part, race horses are well taken care of, especially the ones that the public sees racing in the Triple Crown series. In my opinion, there never was anything remotely humane about greyhound racing--including the concept of having them chase a fake rabbit. You always knew it was all about the bettors, not about the dogs.

I would argue that the essential sport of horse racing looks, on the surface, less "cruel" in terms of what the horses are asked to do and that may have to do with the fact that humans also participate by riding them. As long as there is some level of human interaction with the animals who are racing, in this case by riding on their backs, I would argue that the face of the sport carries a less inhumane appearance.

But Finley's cautionary note about the similarities in public support for the two sports is worth considering: "The public is demanding more. This is still a sport where catastrophic injuries are far too high, where thousands of thoroughbreds go to slaughter every year and where the use of legal drugs is condoned. . . When the public turns away from your product, the only thing to do is fix the product."

As we all know, it is surely time to heed his advice.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Amos's Birthday

Last weekend Amos celebrated his 7th birthday, a rather unremarkable event, except for the fact that it was extremely cold and windy (but then again, it is January...). In any event, this milestone prompted me to think of Bentley, Amos' predecessor, whose cancer was diagnosed at the same age. Not that there is any reason to worry--knock on wood, and thanks to previcox, Amos seems to have returned to the days of his spry youth, but seven is seven.

In dog terms, seven is usually a turning point and for large and giant breeds, it can often mean the beginning of chronic conditions. When Phoebe was seven for instance, I activated the cancer clause on her pet insurance since 50% of all golden retrievers get cancer as they age.

All of these musings on aging were further tweaked by the article I read in the recent issue of Philadelphia magazine about the author's decision to put her dog, who was suffering from colon cancer, down and the difficulties of determining "when it was time." I'm not a big fan of the comparisons she draws between pet and human end of life issues, predominantly because I think she is suffering from incredible guilt for perhaps ending her dog's life prematurely, but I do think that she is missing the whole point of making these decisions: quality of life.

One thing I learned about my journey with Bentley was the importance of determining what you perceive to be the components of your pet's best quality of life: walking, eating, going for car rides, sleeping on the bed, going to the dog park, whatever. Because only you will be able to know when illness trumps quality of life and then the decision is less agonizing because it becomes about your pet, and not about you.

Which is why, in honor of Amos' birthday, I urge you to consider what gives your pet quality of life and to rank these attributes in order of importance. I truly do believe that if you know this, that you do actually know "when it is time."

Here's wishing Amos many more years of great quality of life!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Courage or Resilience? You Tell Me

And just when you thought Michael Vick had faded into obscurity, the Philadelphia Eagles recently announced that he had won an Ed Block Courage Award. The award, according to the web site, is given to one member of each of the NFL's 32 teams (voted on by his teammates) who exemplifies the "principles of sportsmanship and courage." The Eagles unanimous choice was Vick.

Needless to say there has been a lot of backlash. PETA, among others, issued a statement criticizing the Eagles for selecting Vick. Over on 2dogs2000miles, Luke has spoken out against the choice, starting a heated debate among his supporters. And even William Rhoden in the New York Times, notes "perseverance more than courage seems a better description for the qualities [Vick] has exhibited on the comeback trail."

Rhoden goes on to compare Vick to the player the Jacksonville Jaguars selected: Richard Collier. Collier was shot and wounded in September 2008. He is paralyzed and lost a leg as a result of the attack. While Vick travels the country speaking out against dog fighting, Collier works equally hard to end senseless violence.

Which football player is more courageous? I suppose it depends on your definition of courage, but in my opinion, turning a life threatening accident into a positive force against violence, wins out. Vick held his destiny in his own hands and chose to make decisions that landed him in jail. Collier is an innocent victim of random violence, who had no control over his fate.

Is Michael Vick courageous? For what--surviving jail and losing his empire? No he is resilient, thanks to a lot of people who believed in giving him a second chance. Has he come far--perhaps, but it remains to be seen whether or not his commitment to the humane treatment of animals is a life long cause or just the means to the end, in his case, a Super Bowl ring.

I'm not sure it is in the best interest of anybody to give Michael Vick any more publicity for doing time or losing his fortune. And while I'm pretty sure it takes courage to believe in yourself to overcome public scorn and humiliation it also takes good old fashioned persistence, hard work and a stiff upper lip. Ask Martha Stewart who managed to put prison behind her fairly quietly.

It seems to me we shouldn't be handing out awards to anybody who committed a crime, went to jail and returned to his livelihood. There are thousands of people who face more daunting challenges each and every day and somehow manage to keep themselves out of jail.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Special Eclipse Award

On January 18, when the Eclipse awards are handed out, a special one will be presented to Monique Koehler, founder of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the nation's largest equine rescue program. This is significant not only because Ms. Koehler is most deserving, but also because it is a public acknowledgement of the validity of her work.

Ms. Koehler, who lives in New Jersey, founded the organization in 1982, after she became interested in the plight of retired racehorses who did not have second careers in the breeding shed or in the show ring. There are currently 1,200 horses in the program, at TRF-operated farms around the country, including those in Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Virginia and New York.

The farm in New York at the Wallkill Correctional Facility is the site of the first vocational training program in equine care and management for the inmates. It has recently been replicated at the Blackburn Correctional Facility in Kentuky, the Marion County Correctional Facility in Florida and other prisons in South Carolina, Indiana, Maryland and Massachusetts.

It is worth noting that Koehler's involvement with horses stemmed from her interest in humane causes; she was not involved with the sport except as a casual fan.

"I am very honored and humbled to have been selected as a recipient of this year's Special Eclipse Award," she noted. "It has been a wonderful and fulfilling journey and I am able to take a large measure of satisfaction in what the TRF has been able to accomplish, and the thousands of horses we have saved, the many thousands more whose rescue, rehabilitation, or adoption we have facilitated, and the men, women, and children whose lives we have changed for the better through our pioneering vocational training programs."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Rules for Drug Testing in NY

January 1, the day on which all race horses celebrate their birthdays, was also the day on which the New York Racing and Wagering board adopted their new drug testing rules. These rules permit racing authorities in the state to conduct unannounced drug testing on horses scheduled to compete on New York state tracks, even if these horses are not stabled in the state.

It is a bold move by the racing powers that be in the state and is designed to catch "cheaters" in the act since the horses can be tested within 180 days of a race date in New York. "These new rules give us the tools we need to go after the cheaters," said John Sabatini, Chairman of the New York Racing and Wagering Board. "By adopting out of competition testing rules, the board is protecting not only the wagering public but also the health and safety of the magnificent equine athletes who compete at New York's four thoroughbred and seven harness tracks."

The drug test can be ordered regardless of where the horses are being stabled and a trainer or owner who fails to comply, faces serious sanctions including stiff fines and the possibility of having his/her license revoked.

It remains to be seen whether or not this new policy will turn up any positives, but on has to commend the NYRA for making its position well known. Put simply, as Sabatini does, they "are very serious in promoting integrity in racing."

So why doesn't this become an across the board policy for the entire sport?

Monday, January 4, 2010

In case you missed it, Steve Haskin in Bloodhorse magazine named "Barbaro Captures the Heart of a Nation" the story of the decade. And I quote:

"No story in the past decade transcended the Sport of Kings more than Barbaro's eight month struggle to survive, during which he had to undergo major surgeries and numerous procedures and live in constant discomfort. All of America became engrossed in his story and each time Barbaro battled back he reached deeper into people's hearts, whether they knew anything about racing or horses. To everyone, he became a symbol of courage and determination."

I couldn't have said it any better.

Read more here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some Fun in the Sun (Don't Hate Me)

So don't hate me but this was my view for a few beautiful days in late December when we took the family to Key Biscayne for some R & R. And that it was. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, arriving after one cold snap and leaving before the next one, and we made it back before a slew of flights were canceled due to a big East Coast storm. So no complaints on this end since this was my preferred walking route every morning.

These were my companions on my treks.

And some more.

And this guy camped put on a beach umbrella hoping for some crumbs left behind.

Not to be all sun and fun, I did manage to sneak a little work in. First order of business was a genuine face to face with Dr. Patty Khuly who wrote the Introduction to Lick Your Plate! We had been communicating for over a year strictly by email so it was great to put a face and voice to a name.

And we also ate at some amazing South Beach restaurants, including the very "hot" Ola, whose chef/owner, Daniel Rodriguez, happened to be dining with his family at the next table. And don't you know he has a dog (a bichon). And don't you know he cooks for her. And don't you know we signed him up for Book 2.

But mostly it was this view.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting Off In the Right Key

My New Year's Resolution:

Happy 2010 to you and yours.
Taking a short break to catch my breath. Will return on January 4.