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Archive for August, 2006

The Eternal Coffeepot

I’d like to share just one more little memory of my trip to the High Sierra (See Aug. 21 entry, "Once upon a spider," below), then I’ll be back to normal (I think):

The waiter brings Lois and me our cups of coffee as we’re deciding what to order for breakfast.

The coffeepot on the hot plate is almost empty after filling our cups and the waiter returns with a full pot of black coffee to replace it. Not wanting to waste any coffee, he pours the dregs of the almost empty pot into the new, full pot. I nudge Lois and point with my head. She glances over and smiles back at me as the waiter disappears into the kitchen with the now completely empty pot.

Lois is smiling because she knows I have this theory about what I call, the eternal coffeepot.

I checked and this particular restaurant has been serving coffee since 1982. If a long line of parsimonious waiters over the years have always emptied that last little bit of coffee from the old pots into the fresh new pots of coffee that replace them on the hot plate, theoretically … there is some of the very first pot of coffee that the restaurant made when it first opened 24 years ago in every pot of coffee they make today.

I guess you could call it well-aged.

Posted on Thursday, August 31st, 2006
Under: Whimsy | 2 Comments »

Don’t kill the messenger!

On Sunday, Aug. 13, the News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina, published a dramatic front-page story by staff writer Jason Hardin, about animals being euthanized by lethal injection at their county animal shelter.

The emotional story used photos of a shelter employee carrying a dog to be killed and another one of a dead dog being put into a bag.

Hardin’s story began:

"GREENSBORO — Nearly 8,000 of the animals who entered Guilford County Animal Shelter last year never walked out.

"Instead, they received a lethal injection and were incinerated in a small crematorium on the shelter grounds.

"That works out to about one animal euthanized every hour of every day of the year."

A week later, on Aug. 20, News & Record editor John Robinson discussed the reader response to Hardin’s story in his on-line blog, "The Editor’s Log."

" … The first reader e-mail I received Monday morning included this sentiment: ‘I’d much rather see a picture of your staff being taken to be put to sleep.’"

Robinson goes on to print a balanced selection of reader e-mails in his blog, some supporting the story’s message and others very upset at seeing the photos. My guess is he had a LOT more angry responses than supportive ones, even though there was plenty of good reason to run that story.

Animals are dying every day of the year at animal shelters and it doesn’t have to happen. People definitely need to know that.

Hardin summed it up in his story:

"Animal lovers on all sides of the issue say heavy blame lies within the community. If all pet owners spayed or neutered their animals, the problem would not exist."

Cct31989_125That story and blog brought back a flood of bad memories as I read them. We ran the almost identical front page story here at the Contra Costa Times on Sunday, March 19, 1989 (Download a PDF of the front page):

"Pets Overpopulating County — many more killed than given homes." The story told about 15,500 cats and dogs that had been killed in the county animal shelter in one year.

I was intimately involved in the story. I wrote the sidebar than ran alongside the main story: "You can see death in pets’ eyes." To write it I had to visit the shelter and spend a day watching them killing those animals, dog after dog and cat after cat. If you think looking at the photos in your morning paper is bad, try standing next to the guy who has to give the poor animals those shots and then looking each of the animals in the eye just before it died.

I was also closely involved in dealing with the reader response to our story. I got in early on the day the story ran and picked up a ringing phone to hear a woman screaming in my ear, "I hate you for printing those horrible photographs! I hate you!"

We had printed two powerful photos on the front page, along with the story. A photo of a dog with its muzzle tied shut with a rope so it couldn’t bite while it received its lethal injection, and another picture of frozen dogs and cat bodies piled in barrels in the shelter’s walk-in freezer.

Yes, the photos were horrible. But even more horrible was the number of animals that had to be killed at the shelter every day. Our editors felt such an important, shocking story needed to be illustrated with photographs that were just as dramatic.

The initial e-mails and letters that followed were very, very angry, some demanding the firing of staff members who wrote and edited the stories. The understanding responses came later. But they came.

So here we are 17 years later. The News & Record writes basically the same story and uses almost identical photos to illustrate it, and their readers respond the same as our readers did.

They still want to kill the messenger — instead of focusing on the problem and doing what it takes to stop the killing.

If EVERYONE spayed and neutered their pets, we wouldn’t have all these surplus animals to be killed.

Yes, I know no one likes to look at dogs being carried in to be killed. And I know no one ever wants to look at 50-gallon drums full of frozen dead pets in a freezer. I don’t like looking at them, either.

While you’re being angry at us for bringing all this to your attention, could you please take a moment to have your pets spayed and neutered so we won’t have to write this story again? Thanks.

Posted on Tuesday, August 29th, 2006
Under: Shelters killing pets | 9 Comments »

Xylitol can be toxic to dogs

Products sweetened with xylitol, a sweetener found in lots of sugar-free products (candy, gum, etc.) can be toxic to pets.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center has issued a warning to pet owners that xylitol can cause serious problems for companion canines.

You can find out more at:

Posted on Friday, August 25th, 2006
Under: dogs, Toxic | 2 Comments »

Take your hands off my planet!

Can you believe it? A bunch of old astronomers have decided that the planet Pluto is no longer a planet!? How dare they? Pluto was a planet when I was born, I learned all about it in school, Walt Disney even named a dog after it, and as far as I’m concerned it’s STILL a planet. So THERE!

Posted on Thursday, August 24th, 2006
Under: Planet Pluto | 1 Comment »

Once upon a spider

I’m sitting on the back deck of a little log cabin at about 7,000 feet or so in the High Sierra in Hope Valley, California, about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe. I’m getting ready to read a book.

Unknown to me, there’s a single, 2-foot strand of spider web stretched tight between two slender branches of an aspen tree that’s growing near my knee. As the afternoon sun drops lower in the sky and becomes partly hidden by an enormous juniper, a stray beam of sunlight escapes and bounces off the web and suddenly I see the bright band of web sizzling between the two branches.

How does a little spider spin a web between two isolated branches like that? If I was the spider the branches would be hundreds of yards apart.

As the sun moves lower it unexpectedly illuminates hundreds of other strands of web blowing out from branches and twigs in all the other trees. It’s like instant spider webs, everywhere. Amazing.

I bend closer to one and see a yellow speck with microscopic legs on one end of the web — a tiny spider. Armed with that knowledge, I begin to see other tiny yellow spiders at the ends of the other blowing webs. And that’s how they stretch a web from one far-away branch to another. Swinging in the air on a web fastened to one aspen branch and spinning and reeling out web until the tiny yellow spider is carried along by the wind to finally brush against another aspen branch. It quickly fastens (glues) the web tip to the new branch and now it has an anchored cable of web it can use to build a net between the two aspen branches so it can snare tiny insects for dinner when they fly by.

As the sun moves lower, the light begins to reflect off of hundreds maybe thousands of zipping, zooming, swooping, diving insects in air spaces between the trees that moments before appeared to be empty. A startling metamorphosis.

It’s an amazing place, the High Sierra. It’s all so very much alive. There’s a lot of activity in this high thin air above 7,000 feet. It’s another world that you can only see if you look for it, and of course when the light from the afternoon sun is just right.

Mother Nature has her little secrets, but she’s willing to share them with her friends if we’re patient enough to wait for them to magically appear.

My book is still unopened on my lap.

Posted on Monday, August 21st, 2006
Under: Spider web, Spiders | 2 Comments »

I’m taking a short break

I’m taking a break for a few days to visit the High Sierra near Lake Tahoe and check out the local wild creatures. We can talk about it on Monday, Aug 21. See you when I get back! /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
Under: High Sierra | 2 Comments »

Noah’s Wish and Hurricane Katrina

If you were reading my daily columns during Hurricane Katrina, you may remember I wrote a lot about an organization called Noah’s Wish, whose staff and volunteers put in uncounted hours rescuing and caring for thousands of animal-victims of the hurricane. Many of you were kind enough to donate funds to Noah’s Wish to help them with their rescue activities.

I just received the following e-mail from Noah’s Wish. I thought it might interest you:

Dear Gary:
My name is Patricia Jones and I am the director of media for Noah’s Wish; we worked together during Hurricane Katrina.

As the one year anniversary of Katrina approaches, we are reminded that wrenching destruction is not the only legacy of the disaster, as owners continue to be reunited with their pets. One New Orleans resident, Tammy Huppin, was forced to relinquish her cats to Noah’s Wish after the storm destroyed her home. One of her cats — "Lucy" — was one of 22 orphans transported to a Lake Tahoe cat rescue facility. Several months later after Tammy had relocated to Austin, TX, she called Noah’s Wish to learn the fate of her cats. Two had been placed into loving new homes, but "Lucy" remained at the Lake Tahoe shelter. Noah’s Wish arranged to fly Tammy to Lake Tahoe, (today, Aug. 14! /Gary), where the joyful reunion will take place.

Much has changed over the past year since Noah’s Wish entered the hurricane-ravaged city of Slidell, LA, and rescued close to 2,000 of its animals. Prior to Katrina, the organization founded by Terri Crisp in 2002 was virtually unknown and struggling. It has since grown into a multi-million dollar organization with 14 staff members and offices in California, Oklahoma and New York City. On August 23, Terri will receive a Humanitarian of the Year award for her work during Katrina by the Sacramento SPCA.

As Noah’s Wish emerges as a leader in the field of animal rescue in disasters, its involvement in California disaster preparedness programs continues to grow. In June, the organization participated in a mock disaster drill with the Department of Homeland Security in Sacramento. In September, Terri will take part in the National Emergency Preparedness Conference alongside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; she will be representing the Sacramento area.

Noah’s Wish is working to build relationships with communities around the country. The organization recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with St. Tammany’s Parish in Louisiana to manage its animal shelters needs in the event of a disaster. The organization’s greatest strength, without a doubt, comes from its volunteers, numbering approximately 1,500 strong. These volunteers all took part in a rigorous three-day training program designed to duplicate the experience — and attendant hardships — of a real-life disaster. Noah’s Wish breaks its training program into regions so that the entire country is covered and anyone who wants to participate in a training — and a disaster — might have the opportunity to do so.

As the one year anniversary of Katrina nears, I am hoping you might find the story of Noah’s Wish of interest to your readers. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience. (Patricia Jones Director of Media Relations, Noah’s Wish)

Organizations like Noah’s Wish help humans and animals to survive during times of great disaster. You can find out more about what they do by visiting their Web site at If you can help them in any way, please do so. You may just be helping yourself. Thanks.

Posted on Monday, August 14th, 2006
Under: Animals, Disasters | 5 Comments »

Let’s take our minicow for a walk down to the store!

Did you get a chance to read Times staff writer Jeanine Benca’s front page story today about miniature cattle becoming popular pets for families with big backyards? You can read it here if you didn’t:

First we had pot-bellied pigs. Remember them? They were the tiny pigs that would never grow up to be over 100 pounds or so. Of course if you feed even a tiny pig all the food it wants and don’t keep it on a proper diet … it can get BIGGER than you might expect.

Hopefully that isn’t a problem with these minicows. If they shrink livestock down small enough, will people eventually have little herds of cattle in their backyards? Imagine the look on morning commuters’ faces when somebody leaves the back gate open and a herd of miniature cattle comes charging down the middle of the street.

I dare you to try and explain to your boss that you were late to work because your car got caught in a stampede on the Bay Bridge.

(Next week: Where to buy miniature African lions and a tiny herd of wildebeests so you can set up a piece of the African Veldt in your own backyard, and invite the neighbors over for a barbecue after they watch the evening kill at the waterhole.)

Posted on Thursday, August 10th, 2006
Under: Miniature cattle, Pets | 3 Comments »

Will this end all the dog killing in China?

Finally, one organization appears to be offering a practical solution to this insanity (at least I hope that’s where it’s going). The continued killing of thousands and thousands of dogs certainly isn’t going to solve anything.

Associated Press writer Alexa Olesen reports today that The Humane Society of the United States said it will give China $100,000 to vaccinate dogs against rabies if it promises to immediately stop the mass slaughter of dogs in areas where humans have died from the disease.

"There are far better ways of addressing rabies control to promote the safety of your citizens, the good reputation of China and the welfare of dogs," Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, said in an open letter to China’s ambassador in Washington.

According to the AP story, HSUS said the money was conditional on China agreeing to stop the mass killing of dogs and accepting the group’s help in establishing a nationwide rabies control program that relies on vaccinations.

It’s great that HSUS has stepped forward to try and help China deal with its rabies problem(s), but $100,000 is just a tiny drop in the bucket in that enormous country. Even if China chooses to accept the money, this has got to be the start of something BIGGER to really work. The BIGGER question, by the way, is where is the World Health Organization?

Rabies, a fatal disease, is a serious problem around the world, especially in developing nations.

There’s more below if you’re not familiar with this on-going story.

Posted on Wednesday, August 9th, 2006
Under: dogs, Killing, Rabies | 1 Comment »

More dog killing in China

Another wire story by Associated Press Writer Christopher Bodeen says a second Chinese city "plans a mass dog slaughter to control a rabies outbreak … days after a similar cull in which dogs were beaten to death prompted a torrent of criticism." (See my other entry on this subject below.)

Officials in the city of Jining said Thursday they’d kill all dogs within three miles of the area where rabies had been found, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The city has about 500,000 dogs. Sixteen people have died from rabies in Jining in the last eight months, according to the AP story.

PETA has called for a boycott of Chinese products.

"Rabies cases are on the rise in China, with more than 2,000 people dying from the disease each year," says Bodeen. "Only 3 percent of the country’s dogs are vaccinated against rabies."

All this dog killing is an inhumane and completely ineffective way to deal with their rabies problem. The country needs to organize a rabies prevention program and start vaccinating all the dogs in China like they do in other countries of the world. I’m sure the World Health Organization would be willing to help.

Knocking thousands of pet dogs in the head is not going to solve their rabies problem.

Posted on Friday, August 4th, 2006
Under: dogs, Pets, Rabies | 8 Comments »