Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Turn For Home

A new count released on March 24 by the North American horse industry indicates that more than two our of every 1,000 thoroughbreds that started a race between Nov. 2008 and Nov. 2009, had a fatal injury. This count only involved actual racing injuries not those that were incurred during morning training. It is a sobering statistic to be sure.

All the more reason why a program at Philadelphia Park, Turning for Home, is so important. A recent piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the zero tolerance stance by Philadelphia Park with regard to slaughter-auction sales and the benefits of their horse retirement program.

In fact, Philadelphia Park's effort is seen as a paradigm for the industry: "Instead of simply banning sales of horses to slaughter auctions, Philadelphia Park has a full-service adoption program supported by trainers, jockeys, the horsemen's association and the track management." Each trainer must contribute $10 per start per horse per race; jockeys pay $5 if they win or place.

To date, 359 horses have been place in the program, with most of them finding new homes and careers as show or pleasure horses. Some are euthanized due to the extent of their injuries but none are sold for slaughter.

Since so many thoroughbred owners do not have day to day contact with their horses/investments, many fail to realize that these investments ultimately need a place to retire. I maintain that if they were the ones actually caring for their charges every day, instead of just writing the checks for those that do, the deicision to sell them to unidentified buyers would be less casual. When you care for and about something, you care for them forever.

Kudos to Philly Park for showing the way!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Dog Days Academy

It seems as if whenever I walk past Lucy (Sam sister)'s house, there is something going on involving kids or dogs. If you recall it was just such an encounter that led to our purchase of Sam--because I fell in love with Lucy. Today was such a day.

This is London and he is a 14 week old service dog in training. Lucy's owner has hired the trainer of these service dogs to train and board Lucy during the month of July when they go to Nantucket.

Lucy will be enjoying her own summer vacation at Dog Days Academy where she will enjoy swimming, running with the pack and learning obedience. Sounds like a great deal for all involved!

These are some of Lucy's future playmates who are being trained as service dogs. yes, they get swimming lessons! For more info, see. www.caninecompanions.org. The woman who owns Dog Days Academy breeds half goldens, half labs for these companions and here's the best part: those that don't make the cut are available for adoption for a nice donation to the organization.

I don't think London is going to fail, but if he did, I would scoop him up. What a love bug! No word on what they do if your dog fails Dog Days Academy but chances are that you just get him back!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Do You have a Derby Horse?

So it's time to start thinking about a Derby horse now that Lenny is out of the picture. Richard Rosenblatt of the AP has posted a list that includes Lookin at Lucky, Edkendereya and Conveyance in the top three positions.

Lookin at Lucky, trained by Bob Baffert, won the Rebel Stakes about a month ago and is gearing up for one more prep, either the Santa Anita Derby on April 3 or the Arkansas Derby on April 10. The California race is on a synthetic track so once again the question of switching a horse from the synthetic to the dirt comes into play.

Eskendereya, trained by Todd Pletcher, ran away with the Fountain of Youth and is headed for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. I think this horse is the real deal but the Wood is gong to be a true test. There is a reason that Todd Pletcher has such a lousy Derby record (no wins).

Conveyance is also trained by Bob Baffert and is currently undefeated. He will run in the Sunland Derby on Sunday.

Others worth mentioning include Ice Box, (winner of the recent Florida Derby), Odysseus, who is receiving a lot of buzz and who will also start in the Wood on April 3, Dublin (could this be D. Wayne Lukas' comeback kid?) and Sidney's Candy who has never started on the dirt and will keep it that way until the Derby.

It is still too early for me to pick a horse but I think the Wood Memorial is shaping up to be an important race for those contenders who chose it as a prep. And just remember that no one heard of Mine That bird Before he won last year so if you find a diamond in the rough, let me know.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Barbaro Fund for Equine Health and Safety Research

In conjunction with Gretchen Jackson's recent appointment to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance's Subcommittee on Aftercare, comes the announcement that the Jacksons and the NTRA have established the Barbaro Fund for Equine Health and Safety Research.

This new charity actually replaces the NTRA Charities Barbaro Memorial Fund and, according to Bloodhorse, will "become the primary fund raising arm of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance for equine health and safety research." In other words, the NTRA is going to continue to channel efforts into funding research for equine safety, but is now doing it under the umbrella of their safety initiative, thus broadening the scope of the mission.

"As a fundamental building block of scientific advancement, research will always be a pillar of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance," said Mike Ziegler, executive director of the Alliance. "The Barbaro Fund for Equine health and Safety Research will provide critical support on countless fronts affecting the Thoroughbred athlete."

Since its inception in 2007, the NTRA Charities--Barbaro Memorial Fund has contributed more that $400,000 to scientific research and conferences on laminitis. This new initiative will continue to fund laminitis research as well as research into other aspects of equine health and safety.

As I have mentioned many times before, there is no NIH for animal research so true angels, like the Jacksons, are both desperately needed and greatly appreciated by those who work in equine health. Bravo to them for continuing to associate Barbaro's name with health and safety for all horses.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Your Element

Are you in the market for a car? If so, and you have a dog or dogs, then everything I hear, read and see about the Honda Element has convinced me that it is my next car. They truly are going out of their way to cater to dog owners.

First off, let me say that my sister (who has two dogs) has had this car since it first came out and absolutely loves it. She lives in California, loves to surf and the reason she got the car was because she could load her kayak on top fairly easily and then hose down the inside when she got home. She also has a neat attachment that serves as a changing room for getting in and out of wet suits. So I am a bit biased.

But I have been noticing more and more of these funny box shaped cars at the dog park and everyone who has one loves it. The new models have a bit more styling and four wheel drive--which we need around here in case you forgot all the snow we got this year. Plus the Dog Friendly Pet accommodation option (for $995) includes a built in ramp as well as a built in soft sided crate to contain your pooches.

I know. I'm not sure Miss Phoebe would be amenable to being contained in the rear of the car but Sam would. And it comes with a doggie fan to make sure the area is well ventilated. What a concept.

Add to this the idea that the interior of the car can literally be hosed off, has a five star crash rating and you might understand why it gets my vote. It is ugly, I admit but so is the inside of my Volvo SUV.

I'm not in the market for a car but maybe by the time I am, the two tone exterior will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, if you get one, let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fly Eagle Fly!

Ever wonder where your state taxes are going? Well if you live in Pennsylvania, part of them are going to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a noble organization to be sure. But lately, the DEP has been pursuing a legal case that, well, is for the birds.

It all goes back to 2004, when a baby bald eaglet was discovered by wildlife workers on Petty's Island, a small island in the Delaware River. The eaglet died en route to the wildlife rescue center and the workers blame a developer, Cherokee, that was planning to build a golf course and hotel on the island. According to the DEP, Cherokee roused the eaglet from its nest by a bird expert hired by the company and killed the bird.

Never mind that a trial judge has already determined that the company did not intentionally harm or intend to harm the bird. Acting DEP Commissioner Bob Martin will not give up the ship. "Clearly harassment did occur in this case, and we want people to know we're not going to tolerate that type of behavior when it comes to endangered species," he said. To which, the Superior Court Judge who dismissed the case remarked, that the DEP has pursued the issue with determination "akin to the passion I have seen in a death-penalty case."

Now I like eagles as much as the next person and believe strongly in protecting endangered species, BUT, the larger question, as the trial court judge pointed out, is why the state chose to relocate these eagles to Petty's Island to begin with, since the site is a known dumping ground for the Citgo Petroleum Corporation.

The eagles are the only ones who have apparently gotten the message. They abandoned the site on their own, moving to one less toxic about a year after they were moved to Petty's Island. Lo and behold, the bald eagle pair produced an eaglet that thrived and then flew away.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Having it All on Your Doorstep

Does your vet make house calls? Do you wish they did? Well Jennifer Muller, who was recently named Veterinary Advocate of the Year by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and Veterinarian of the Year by a drug company, does. And in her spare time, she helps craft policy to shut down puppy mills.

Muller, who was recently featured on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer, modeled the house call practice after the one her cousin runs in Key west. "I like the idea of having closer relationships with people," she says. "Instead of 15 minute appointments, always rushing, this seemed like a better way. The animals are more relaxed." Muller estimates she has about 100 current clients in her practice, which has grown strictly by mouth. I wonder how she handles surgeries or situations that require special equipment (x-rays for example).

As for the policy part, well her background is in political science. She served as both a White House intern under Clinton and a domestic policy advisor to Al Gore. She left Washington during the Bush years, moving to L.A. to try her hand a screen writing. It was there that she received the advice that pointed her toward Penn Vet school: "You should do in life what you find yourself doing in your free time." Considering she was walking her dogs at the time, she took it to heart.

Since October 2008, she has been the chair of the Pennsylvania Canine Health Board which is currently drafting new regulations for commercial breeders in the state. It is a win-win situation for the animal loving policy wonk: "I said that one of the reasons I decided to become a vet was not just to treat animals, but to apply my policy experience to help animals on a larger scale," she said in her acceptance speeches.

Bottom line: do what you love, even if it means shifting gears.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Belated First Day of Spring

Guess who went swimming in honor of the first day of Spring?

And guess who got a bath and a well deserved nap?

Happy daffodils and forsythia!!! Well deserved in this neck of the woods after all our snow.

Phoebe thinks so as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cells are Cells

It is one of the ironies of my life lately that I, the non-science person, find myself writing a lot about science. Earlier this week, I spent a few hours at Princeton with the scientist (Ph.D.) who is overseeing the molecular analysis of the cancer tumors that are being removed from shelter dogs with mammary tumors. It was, to say the least, absolutely fascinating, even if I did not understand all of the science behind the protocol and the procedure.

What I did understand, however, was the importance of this project and how desperately they need a benefactor. The similarities between spontaneous occurring cancer in dogs and humans is remarkable and the opportunity to study the linear progression of a tumor from pre-malignant to malignant is significant.

I saw the canine tumors in the freezer and the state of the art lab where the analysis takes place, one of the few places that is able to analyze both the tissue samples in terms of their molecular composition as well as their significance. The preliminary work is very exciting and looks extremely promising--not only in terms of being able to measure which genes are different between the normal cells and those with cancer--but also in terms of being able to identify the genes that are only altered between canine patients when they become cancerous.

Funding remains the biggest challenge to this project and hopefully some will soon materialize before the seed money dries up. The plan is to have thirty dogs (which means about 180 tumors) enrolled in the study by the summer and then to go to work analyzing the tissue samples.

"It is hard to get noticed by traditional funding sources who fail to see the connection between canine and human cancer," my scientist told me. "The bottom line is cells are cells and cancer is cancer."

Here's hoping this important work continues.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

No Derby for Lenny

Lentenor finished a disappointing fourth in the Florida Derby and was, I think, done in by the fast pace. They went the first quarter in 23 seconds and change--which is pretty fast. He lay toward the back of the pack after breaking well, and held his own along the rail, but he got beaten by faster horses.

Icebox, a 20 to 1 shot won the race with an impressive closing move down the stretch. He came back covered in dirt, so you have to believe he didn't have the smoothest of trips, but he certainly closed impressively to take the victory by a nose from Pleasant Prince.

Rule really ran out of gas--stopped about halfway down the stretch and Radiohead went really wide and finished nowhere. I would think that Rule will certainly aim for the Kentucky Derby and you can bet that both Icebox and Pleasant Prince will join him.

I'm not sure it was the best group of three year olds running at the moment, but they are all clearly further along than Lenny at this present time. Can Lenny race with these big boys? Yes, I do think he can, but don't count on it until he gets an allowance win (at Keeneland) under his belt.

As they say, all good things in due time. I do believe, Lenny is a dirt horse, and will probably make his next start on that surface. I also think Alan Garcia waited a little too long to ask Lenny to run and also that he did not have the greatest trip along the rail. In his defense, it is hard to swing a horse wide when he is in the 2 post and given that Lenny was coming from 10th, that would have been a lot of horses for him to go around.

Will he race in a Triple Crown race? I don't know. It's important to remember that he has not been off the board once in all his starts. He's a nice racehorse who has yet to come into his own or catch a break. A lot can happen between now and then. Lets see how things pan out, but for what its worth, I don't think the Kentucky Derby winner was among those who ran in the Florida Derby.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anything You Can Do. . .

While everyone else is arguing about whether or not Lenny will go off the favorite in Saturday's Florida Derby (I actually hope he doesn't, but he might since he is clearly going to be the sentimental favorite), I would like to point your attention to the fact that the runner-up for the Associated Press's Female Athlete of the year Award, went to Zenyatta. Since the horse was surrounded by two female tennis players, Serena Williams in number 1 and Kim Clijsters in number 2, the best take on this situation is provided by a tennis writer, Beth Rifkin, who consulted with some very good experts.

For starters, she interviewed Dean Richardson, who set her straight about why thoroughbreds should be considered professional athletes, not just the jockeys who sit on their backs. "By many definitions race horses certainly are professional athletes," says Richardson. "They train, they perform--for money--they're cared for and get whatever they need. What's your definition of professional athlete? They work hard for what they get."

There are other similarities between human and equine athletes, of course, training regiments, the necessity of having the will to win as well as talent, and the potential for injuries to disrupt or even end their careers.

When it comes to Zenyatta, Richardson as well as Alex Brown agree not only that she is something special but that she also knows it. "Zenyatta exudes personality," Brown elaborates. "Zenyatta shows off, but she does it with brilliance and class."

As with many other sports, when you are that good, and a woman, you don't always get the respect you deserve. Rachel Alexandra finished seventh on the list of top female athletes, even though she garnered Horse of the Year honors.

Regardless of whether those involved with any other sport recognized it, Rachel and Zenyatta did more for the sport of racing than any other female athlete did last year for their sport. You have to harken back to the days of Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs to put the impact in perspective. "It was a very special year to have two females. That poll was interesting--both horses deserved to be up there at the top," concludes Richardson.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Position for Gretchen Jackson

According to bloodhorse.com, from whence this photo came, Gretchen Jackson has agreed to join the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Safety and Integrity Alliance's subcommittee on Aftercare. The focus of this committee is the care and feeding of retired racehorses and needless to say, Mrs. Jackson is the absolute perfect person to speak for the horses.

"This is a tough industry to get anyone to agree on anything, but one thing we all agree on is that we all love our horses," she commented.

Watch out NTRA. You have not seen anything quite like the passion of Mrs. Jackson when it comes to the welfare of the animals she truly loves. Remember this is the woman who said that it would be just fine if Barbaro could live out his days on their farm if he was pain free.

Might it be too much to wonder if Mrs. Jackson's appointment might actually effect some changes in policy-such as the institution of a mandatory percentage of all entry fees being contributed to retirement funds?

Who knows? According to Mike Ziegler, executive director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, "Aftercare is a shared issue among the entire industry."

Only time will tell. And in the meantime, I wonder if she could do anything about getting the NTRA.com live feed to work on Saturday for the Florida Derby?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good News

Sometimes the stars really do seem to align. . .

Yesterday was a big day. Lenny was entered in the Florida Derby--a great move (and one that I had been predicting. . . ) and his biggest competition Eskandereya is going to wait until the Wood to race again. It still looks like a tough field and he still has to finish 1 or 2 in order to be eligible for the Kentucky Derby, but I have a very good feeling about Lenny's first start on the dirt.

And then if that wasn't enough, we got our book contract for Lick Your Plate: America's Chefs Cook For Their Dogs and Yours!!! Deadline: Sept. 1, 2010 so we know how I will be spending my summer, but all good things. Finally.

Let's hope that these things truly do come in threes and that Lenny will make the cycle complete by winning on Saturday. And if anyone knows any chefs who have dogs, please let me know. Anywhere in the country.

Cats are slated for Volume 2!

More Than One Way To Catch A Bug

This is Cruiser and he is a bedbug's worst enemy. He is also very busy lately, sniffing out their presence (or absence) in New York City where bedbugs are an epidemic. According to the New York Times, from whence Cruiser's photo came, last year there were 11,000 complaints reported to the city's Department of Housing, Preservation and Development with 4,084 violations. Those numbers are nearly twice what they were the year before.

Enter Cruiser, who belongs to Jeremy Ecker, the owner of the six month old business the Bed Bug Inspectors. Cruiser, a puggle, was trained in Florida at the J & K Canine Academy in High Springs, Florida. He sniffs out bedbugs and is rewarded with food when he finds them.

He is pretty good at his job, as the NY Times documents, but the training parameters of his job (eating only when he finds bugs) mean that Ecker must keep a supply of live bedbugs around so that Cruiser can eat when he isn't at work. Bedbugs feast on human blood once a month and you guessed it--Ecker's arm is their buffet. Rest assured that the bugs he keeps on hand are kept in vials that let air in but no bugs out.

Bedbugs are a scourge in big cities where they can easily migrate from one apartment to the next and just because Cruiser finds them does not mean the end of their existence. For that, the unlucky home owner must call in an exterminator. There are lots of methods to kill bedbugs, many of which require pretty strong chemicals and the family to bunk elsewhere while they are working.

I don't believe I have ever been bitten by bedbugs but I have been bitten by sand fleas that hatched in a carpet of a summer home where they had taken up residence over the winter, probably courtesy of a dog. Trust me, it was ugly, itchy and incredibly uncomfortable and yes, you do feel like bugs are everywhere.

Moral of the story? Don't buy real estate in NY without having it inspected by a bed bug sniffing dog--no joke this is legit advice--and even then, keep a watchful eye on your premises. While Ecker says that bedbugs "are not like fleas. They don't jump on you," once they move in it is really hard (and expensive) to get them to vacate the premises.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Will He or Won't He?

Today is the day we will find out if Lentenor is going to enter the Florida Derby, this Saturday, or the Wood Memorial, on April 3 at Aqueduct. According to a Daily Racing Form article, Matz said he will "probably just wait up until entry time on Wednesday, see who's going into the race, and make a decision then."

A lightening fast workout on Monday on the dirt over the main track at Palm Meadows under jockey Alan Garcia, is what prompted all this speculation. Lenny clocked in at 1:00 for five furlongs and was the fastest of all 36 workouts recorded that morning. "I was very pleased and Alan really liked him as well," Matz said. "I put him behind three horses, he went around them and took the dirt well."

Because the Kentucky Derby requires Graded Stakes winnings for entry, Lentenor must come in first or second in his next start or he is not eligible. The winner of the $750,000 Wood Memorial automatically qualifies. So does the winner of the $500,000 Florida Derby.

Talk about pressure--not only on Lenny to literally run away with his next race but on Matz to choose the best situation for him to accomplish this.

For all the back and forth about the Lentenor camp not really caring which whether or not Lentenor runs in the Kentucky Derby, I think the truth is more likely that they don't want to be in a position to say, "We should have." They need to give Lenny a fair shot to show what he can do on the dirt and and then not be surprised if he blows everyone away.

Actually either race makes sense. If he did run in New York, he would then ship back to Keeneland, which opens April 2. In fact, he probably would ship from Keeneland to New York, most likely moving out by the beginning of next week.

Decisions. Decisions. We'll certainly know more by this afternoon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Signs of Spring

We interrupt the analysis of Rachel v. Zenyatta to bring you an update on the winter of our discontent here in southeastern Pennsylvania.
First, the good news. The snow is almost gone.

Actually to be fair, there truly are only patches left here and there, one of which happens to be in my driveway right next to the wheelbarrow, which rolled itself there during last weekend's monsoon.

And while the rain was no fun, it did seem to add inches to these daffodil shoots, now clearly visible IN THE MUD!!! I think there may be some tulips in there as well.

But there's more--this looks like a forsythia bud getting ready to POP!! Sorry for the blurry closeup but you get the general idea.

Can sneezing and itchy eyes be far behind?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Apple Blossom a No-Show for Rachel

Well first the great news. Zenyatta is amazing and while I had to settle for the live ESPN telecast of the race (don't even get me started on the frustrations associated with trying to log into a non-existent live video feed of both races courtesy of ntra.com, but why should that surprise me?), my west coast sister saw it live and reported that it was "electrifying."

"I've never seen so many people so excited about a horse and a race," she told me. "They cheered when Zenyatta came onto the track and she did her little dance; they cheered when she made a hole appear where there were none; they cheered when she won and they they cheered even louder when they paraded her back in forth in front of the stands after she won. It was amazing!"

Lucky her because she definitely saw one of the best races I have seen in a long time. If you want to know what confidence looks like, watch Mike Smith guide his prized mount through spaces that she shouldn't have fit through. He never panicked. He never went to his whip. He looked like he still had a pretty good hold on her when she crossed the finish line. He knows what he has got and good for him.

Meanwhile, Rachel's return to racing was not quite as triumphant. She was beaten about 3/4 of a length by Zenyatta's stable mate, Zardana, who made an impressive show of things. Rachel never looked quite right, even when she looked like she was going to win and late yesterday we learned that she will not be heading to the Apple Blossom. It seems as if she came out of the race quite well, but she has clearly is not back to her peak racing form, just yet.

I am disappointed, yes, but I will be even more disappointed if one of the two retires abruptly. If you want to know what racing needs it is these two continuing to do what they do best: draw crowds, generate excitement and attract legions of fans, many of them women.

Let's hope they both continue to race throughout the year and that they do eventually meet, perhaps in California so my sister can give us live reports!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Head and Tale of Old Baldy

The story of Old Baldy, General Meade's horse that was wounded in the charge at Gettysburg, is one more example of a horse-hero and further example of how these heroics live on long after the horse.

As the legend goes, Baldy was struck by a musket ball when General Meade was leading his troops into battle at Gettysburg. "Baldy was shot again and I fear he will not get over it," the good General wrote in a letter to his wife on July 5, 1863. But three days later, the horse was still alive, much to the delight of his besotted owner.

While Old Baldy had been shot in battle before, this injury was serious enough to force his retirement, which he passed on a farm in Downingtown, PA, not too far from Gettysburg. After the war, the horse and rider were reunited and legend has it that Meade took Old Baldy for rides in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.

When the horse died, his head was removed and preserved by members of the Meade Post #1 of the Grand Army of the Republic. It hung for years at their post on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia and then was transferred to the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in the Frankford section of the city.

About thirty years ago, Old Baldy's head was lent to the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia where it has been on display until the museum recently announced it was closing and moving to a new, as yet, incomplete new home at an undisclosed location.

According to Eric Schminke, president of the Grand Army of the Republic Museum, lawyers between the two institutions worked out a deal that would permit Old Baldy to return to the Frankford Museum for at least three years and then possibly relocate to the new home of the Civil War Museum.

For the moment, Eric Schminke is just happy "and excited" Old Baldy is coming home. "We are planning a grand opening and reception to officially unveil the display of Old Baldy hopefully by the first Sunday in September."

That Old Baldy still has a cult following that involved custody of his stuffed head is evidence enough that the deeds and legends of horse heroes live on long after the steeds have gone to greener pastures.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


How the worm has turned! A recent article in The Boston Globe by Mark Blaudschun calls the Matz way of training a horse for the Triple Crown (slowly) the new normal. It wasn't so long ago that the five weeks between Barbaro's Florida Derby win and the Kentucky Derby was as vast as the Sahara Desert--it was viewed as that long a lay off.

"The recent trend is less is better," Blaudschun writes. "Michael Matz did that with 3-year old Barbaro in 2006, running him only three times (in January, February and April), when he used the Florida Derby as his last Derby prep. . ."

The majority of this year's contenders are lightly raced thus far this year, including Eskendereya, Conveyance, Dublin and Back Talk. The bigger questions seems to be whether or not trainers are scared of injury or scared of using up their horses if indeed they think they are talented enough to make a Triple Crown run.

My guess is that it is a little of each. Whether it is breeding, training practices, racing surfaces, medication or a combination of any or all of these factors, long gone are the days of Sea Biscuit or War Admiral when horses would run about every two or three weeks.

Could that have contributed to the popularity of the sport? Probably. Like the baseball season, horse racing had some momentum once it got going and there wasn't this interminable time between races. Just ask any Fan of Lentenor, how long it seems between his races!!

Speaking of which. Don't count him out just yet. I still think he just might run in the Florida Derby depending on the level of the competition. Only time will tell if all of this tinkering with timetables will pay off.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Future is Closer Than You Think

Want to know how the iPad is going to change books? Check this out. Equal parts exciting, inspritational and daunting (at least from the author's perspective).

Opportunity, indeed, knocks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ASPCA Funds Rescuing Racers Initiative

Great news from the ASPCA. On Monday, March 1, the ASPCA announced their Million Dollar Rescuing Racers Initiative designed to help rescue retired racehorses. A generous, unnamed donor endowed the program which will distribute, over the course of two to three years, substantial funds to six well-deserving organizations.

The six organizations are: California Equine Retirement Foundation (Winchester, CA), Old Friends (Georgetown, KY), MidAtlantic Horse Rescue (Chesapeake City, MD), all contracted divisions of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and eight chapters of CANTER. These are all well established rescue organizations with long track records of saving retired racehorses and well deserving of these grants.

"The ASPCA truly values each group's steadfast efforts to promote equine welfare," says Jacque Schultz, senior director of ASPCA Community Outreach. "The thoroughbred that has given his all on the racetrack deserves to live out his life free of pain, fear and suffering."

Kudos to the donor for establishing this program. More kudos to the recipients and even more kudos to the ASPCA for recognizing and supporting the work of these organizations.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Amos, the Wonderdog!

Of course you already knew that Amos has special powers but today's episode impressed even me, the greatest champion of his abilities.

We were loading up to go the park, an activity I do with the garage door closed to corral my wayward pack. There is a routine. Phoebe and Sam go in the back; Amos curls up in the front seat. I fill up the baggie in my jacket with treats from the garage shelf (to persuade Miss Phoebe that it is time to get in the car not dig up groundhogs), push the garage door button and get in the car.

Except today, the garage door went up all by itself. Or at least appeared to do so.

Believe it or not, I thought it was just the garage door acting up. We have been having some issues with the sensors on one of the doors turning on and off for no reason and I thought this was just another glitch. Did I wave my hand in front of something? Did I hit the button without realizing it?

So I got in the car, started it and headed for the park, scratching my head as to what made the door go up on its own. I discovered the answer when we unloaded. The garage door opener, which usually lives on my car visor, had fallen off and was stuck between Amos' seat and the center console.

Amos, the wonder dog, clearly had hit the opener while getting settled. Now if it happens again, with the opener back on the visor, I will no longer doubt Amos' supernatural abilities!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Cancer Vaccine For Dogs

So the first canine cancer vaccine has hit the market. It is called Oncept and it is designed to treat oral cancer. I remember when I was sitting in the waiting room at Penn while Bentley was getting his chemo and met some people whose dogs had oral cancer. Trust me it is nasty and often requires jaw and mouth surgery that make it difficult for the dog to eat.

The vaccine seems to be of the targeted gene response model. That is, it contains a substance that is similar enough to the dog's own genetic material that it targets canine melanoma cells, and different enough that it generates the dog's immune system to fight those cells. The material, by the way, is found in human DNA.

I have no idea how expensive this drug is but it has met with pretty good results. Dogs with Stage II or III oral melanoma survived longer after tumor removal when they were vaccinated than those who were not. Typical survival rates for those with Stage II or III oral melanoma is about 6 months after the tumor is removed, without vaccination.

Which brings me to the lymphoma vaccine trial that is no longer ongoing at Penn. The results are pending publication so I am not at liberty to say much other than the vaccine they generated was successful but not in the manner that they had originally envisioned.

The bottom line here seems to be that for the moment the tried and true cancer therapies for dogs are still the gold standard although research is making great strides.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Drugs in the Food Chain

Over at Alex Brown Racing, Alex Brown has been conducting an informal study of how many horses that are slaughtered in Canada have bute in their systems. The results are 99%, which should not be a surprise. What is surprising, however, is that the resulting horse meat, which is sent to Europe, is contaminated with the stuff and humans are eating it.

One need look no farther than the case of a bald eagle, whose blood toxicology was recently assessed at Penn's New Bolton Center, to realize the effects of any drug--in this case it was a barbiturate--on any animal's nervous system.

The bald eagle in question was rescued by Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research after it hit a power line and was found on the ground. At first glance, the bird's wobbly state was believed to have been a result of his head trauma, but the toxicology results showed otherwise.

"The tests confirmed the elevated blood lead level and also ruled out mercury poisoning a another possible cause of the bird's clinical signs," said D. Lisa Murphy. "Further blood testing revealed significant quantities of barbiturates, which also probably explained the eagle's unusual symptoms. It is not uncommon for birds of prey and other scavengers to become sickened by these drugs, generally after feeding on a euthanized animals."

The bird recovered and was eventually set free but it brings up interesting questions about the lingering effects of any drugs that are in the foods we eat. There are many who believe that the growing rate of human antibiotic resistance is a result of eating meat from cows who have been fed antibiotics all their lives to prevent disease in factory farming conditions.

Not that one should eat horse meat in the first place, but what are the implications of interjecting controlled substances like bute into the food chain? A strong and compelling argument for eliminating slaughter that has nothing to do with the emotional or political issues that surround the topic. One would hope that FDA would follow Alex's lead and generate some scientific data on the topic.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Cove Goes For an Oscar

It's Oscar day and night so be sure to watch and see if The Cove, featuring Ric OBarry who was the late Flipper's trainer and is now the most vocal opponent of dolphins in captivity, wins for best documentary.

It is especially relevant in light of the recent Tillikum tragedy at Sea World, where trainers are now required to wear their hair in buns rather than pony tails. As if that will calm the senses of animals kept in sensory deprivation tanks.

Just saying. . .

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Watch Your Pet

We all know the benefits of owning pets: companionship, unconditional love, a sense of purpose to your life and twice daily exercise routines. But there are also pitfalls, one of which involves eye injuries that are actually quite common.

A recent column in the Philadelphia Inquirer detailed a particularly gruesome one, in which a half-rottweiler went after his owner's eyelid. Sounds like a freak accident, right? Well, as the author of the piece, a third year resident at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia recounts, it happens more often than you might think. "In my short time training to be an eye surgeon, I have seen at least three patients whose dogs have bitten through their eyelids," she writes.

Not only is it a medical challenge to repair these injuries, the fact that they occur fairly frequently is important to realize, especially since many of them can be prevented. A 2007 study, among others, from the University of Pa's School of Veterinary Medicine found that children under four are especially vulnerable to attacks from dogs.

Some of this may be due to the fact that young children are noisy, excitable and can provoke dogs without realizing it. Also the fact that children eat at the dogs' level can inadvertently cause food issues with some dogs. Older children may encroach on a dog's territory without realizing it and provoke defensive behavior.

Dogs can scratch your corneas without intending to hurt you and tug of war games with puppies can get out of hand if you are not careful. I have had numerous nose scratches to prove that even the most good intentioned dogs do not realize how big their feet are.

The bottom line: Pay attention. Don't do anything to provoke your dog and please monitor dogs and children carefully. If you think the two don't belong in the same room, separate them. Keeping your eye on your dog may actually save your sight.

Friday, March 5, 2010

How About A Horse on the Red Carpet?

These horses are called Gypsy Vanners and they are the latest obsession of a Chester County (PA) couple, Sue Rathbone and Ed Fitts, who actually just finished bankrolling a movie starring one of their own Gypsy Vanners, named Odd Job Bob. The movie, stars Kris Kristofferson and Brooke Shields among others, so this is no fly by night film and the entire moral of the story seems to be that if you have enough money, you can do just about anything.

Fitts, an industrial engineer who made his pile of dough by manufacturing paper packaging for fast food restaurants, is pretty much used to getting whatever he wants. So when he decided that he liked the horse he rode on vacation in Sedona one year so much that he bought half a dozen of the same breed, it was no biggie for him to decide to breed Gypsy Vanners, a rare and beautiful breed that some feel is a smaller version of the Budweiser Clydesdales. Rathbone was similarly obsessed with the Vanners and the two set out to become ambassadors for the breed.

Part of this self declared ambassador-ship involved a starring role for Odd Job Bob in a film that they bankrolled. It just finished filming in Georgia and they are still looking for a distributor. No details on the story other than the horse does not die, the film has a happy ending and it teaches a life lesson.

Actually sounds like a winning family flick and don't be surprised if Odd Job Bob ends up being a star. Seems like this couple has the Midas touch in more ways than one.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Watching the Watch Dog

I'm not quite sure what to make of this but on February 23, a new organization called Humanewatch.org ran a full page ad in the NY times that attacked the Humane society of the United States for mismanagement of donated funds. The ad noted that HSUS "gives less than one-half of one percent of its $100 million budget to hands-on pet shelters" while "sock[ing] away over $2.5 million of American's donations in is own pensions plans."

HumaneWatch claims to be the watchdog of the "dog-watchers" and invites readers to visit its website. So I did, because while I am not a huge fan of Wayne Pacelle, Chairman of HSUS, I do believe the organization has its heart in the right place, at least on the surface.

HumaneWatch is run by The Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit that keeps an eye on other nonprofit groups. From what I can tell, they have, of late, focused a lot of attention on PETA and it seems as if the HumaneWatch project grew out of their immersion in animal related issues.

That said, the blogger, David Martosko, who by the way is the Director of Research for the CCF, is articulate and does his homework. But I can't help wonder why he is focusing so much attention on the Humane Society of the US, when surely there must be other larger nonprofits that are not quite as narrowly focused. But then again, maybe HSUS's large coffers demands some monitoring.

I hear tell that CCF is a fairly conservative organization (dare I say tea-partyish?) and that is not my usual cup of tea. Rumor also has it that the meddling of the government in agricultural affairs, as in California's recent proposal to eliminate factory farming, is what started this investigation. Since I am a huge opponent of factory farms, and I believe the HSUS advocates the same position, I am even more wary of their tactics.

However, buyer beware, as they say. Everyone is entitled to their own point of view but, in my opinion, until they prove otherwise, longevity seems to trump upstarts.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Past Comes Back to Bite

The New York Post is reporting some spine tingling news: that the owner of the French Bulldog who won the Non-Sporting Group at the recent Westminster Kennel Club show in New York is the same person who helped a "low life hit man" kill one of the horses she used to train to garner the insurance money.

The woman in question is one Marion Hulick, age 75, who in a former life was a horse trainer in upstate New York. The incident in question involved one of the horses she trained for owner George Lindemann, Jr.

According to the Post, witnesses at Hulick's trial said "she met with the killer, Tommy Burns, offering him a $35,000 cut of the $250,000 insurance money to kill the show animal, Charisma, on Dec. 15, 1990."

I will spare you the gruesome details of the actual deed, but suffice it to say that Hulick served six month in federal prison for the crime. Regarding her past, Hulick said "it doesn't have anything to do with how I conduct my life." She now lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a dozen French bulldogs and about a dozen retired show horses.

Dare I wonder if any of those animals are insured?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Yes, I'm beginning to believe, we will eventually have Spring! Those are daffodils poking through the spots of melted snow. Rest assured, these bare spots are few and far between, but they exist.

It's amazing to think I am not even dreading the mud--yet!