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Tag: editorial

Ignoring Leona: Dogs have a bone to pick

If Leona Helmsley was betrayed as much in life as she is being betrayed in death, it’s easy to understand why she might have become the bitch — and we’re not talking female dog — she was so often portrayed as.

In the latest development with the wealth she left behind, a second judge has ruled, in effect, that the foundation divvying up her fortune among charitable groups need not follow her express wish that much of that money be spent on the care of dogs.

The judge denied a bid by the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and other animal groups to get a larger share of Helmsley’s billions.

Although Helmsley directed a share of her massive fortune go to “the care of dogs” — that being in addition to the $12 million she asked be left to her own dog — the Helmsley Foundation’s trustees have seen fit to dispense most of the foundation money among organizations that have little or nothing to do with canines.

According to the animal welfare groups, only about $100,000 of the $450 million the foundation has given away has gone to dog causes.

The dog charities argued they should have standing to challenge how the foundation gives away its money in light of Helmsley’s written statements and last wishes. Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, called the $100,000 received so far ”a trifling amount, and contrary to Helmsley’s intentions.”

Surrogate’s Court Judge Nora Anderson in Manhattan rejected the bid by the animal welfare organizations to intervene in the case, agreeing with a judge who ruled earlier that the trustees have sole discretion in how to distribute the money, the New York Post reported yesterday.

She said she feared the groups’ challenge could open the floodgates to countless lawsuits from dog organizations around the world.

It’s hardly the first time Helmsley’s last wishes have been overruled since her death: Of that $12 million she left in her will for the care of her Maltese, named Trouble, a judge reduced the amount to $2 million.

Beyond what she intended to leave for the care and feeding of Trouble, Helmsley had another $5 to $8 billion, according to estimates of the trust’s worth.

Helmsley, who died in 2007, wrote in a 2004 mission statement for the trust that she wanted that money used for “1) purposes related to the provision or care of dogs and 2) such other charitable activities as the Trustees shall determine.”

In 2009, though, the Surrogate’s Court found that the mission statement did not place any legal restrictions on what donations could be made from the trust.

Later that year, the ASPCA, the Humane Society and Maddie’s Fund, filed a motion asking the court to vacate its earlier order and allow them to intervene. The primary interest of those groups was not, of course, in seeing solely that Helmsley’s wishes were honored, but neither, it seems, are the foundation’s. The animal welfare groups’ goals seem more aligned with her wishes, though.

By all descriptions, the so-called ”queen of mean” was a hard-hearted woman, with one soft spot — dogs.

The foundation doling out her fortune doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of respect for dogs, or for Helmsley.

I’m no legal expert, just a dog lover, and I’m not asking for Trouble.  But if I arranged to leave my fortune – non-existent though it may currently be — to my dog Ace, or anywhere else, and you didn’t carry out my wishes, you can be sure I’d be back to haunt you.

I’d show you mean.

It’s not so lonesome in this old town

Well it’s lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I’m a face without a name
Just walking in the rain
Goin’ back to Houston, Houston, Houston

You can go home again – whether you’re Thomas Wolfe or Dean Martin —  just don’t expect it to look even vaguely like it once did.

That’s the case with Houston, where I spent my puberty – from 1965 to 1970. (It was a long puberty.)

Since then, Houston has spread even more than I have. Its rich have become richer, its poor have become poorer, its hot has become hotter, its freeways – weren’t there just two? – envelop the city like a mound of spaghetti.

And the Astrodome, that behemoth “modern-day” marvel where I would watch the lowly Astros — the eighth wonder of the world, they called it — now sits empty and unused, an antique that’s dwarfed by even larger Reliant Stadium. (I vote for making the Astrodome the world’s largest dog park.)

I drove by it yesterday on my way to meet an old friend – more than a friend, really. Houston is where my parents got divorced. While I’d spend summers with my father – here, and there, and then somewhere else – from 12 on, I grew up mostly with my mom.

I don’t know if she made a conscious effort to provide me with a male role model, but a co-worker at the Houston Chronicle, the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist, ended up being just that.

He cartooned under the name C.P. Houston, though his real name is Clyde Peterson. And as many of my memories that have faded away, I can still semi-clearly recall sitting in his office and watching him conjure up biting editorial cartoons, tennis outings during which we would sweat buckets, Astros games that we’d usually leave disappointed and – yes! — professional wrestling, even, with its absolutely good guys and totally bad guys and never anybody in between.

All that was 45 years ago, and what little we have stayed in touch has mostly been through reports relayed by my mother. He went on to get married, have children, then grandchildren, and test the waters of retirement.

I don’t know if I’m a part of him, but I’m pretty sure he’s a part of me, to digress back to one of the songs we mentioned yesterday. He – at a time in his life that he probably had far better ways to spend his time than hang around with a snot-nosed pubescent — shaped what I became. (A snot-nosed adult?)

He is honorable, witty and unafraid, a hardcore storyteller, a full-time pursuer of curiosity, the type who, were he a wrestler, would definitely be a good guy, the sort who’s willing to set off on a trip whose destination is to be decided later.

I don’t claim to be all those things, but I think I am some of them, and – not to totally discount genetics or anything – I think he may be a big reason why. (I don’t hold him liable for my numerous negative traits; I think I’ve managed to develop them on my own.)

The point, other than waxing nostalgic, and thanking Clyde the only way I seem able to – at a distance — is this: I think we are shaped by the people who come into and out of our lives, and by our experiences, to a far greater extent than we are shaped by our genes.

Yesterday, in what was probably the second time I’ve seen Clyde since my boyhood, we shared a tale or two, or six, and ate some breakfast, after which we stepped back into the humidity and headed to our cars. As I started up my bright red SUV, I glanced into my rearview mirror to see him pulling out.

In a bright red SUV.

Suddenly, it wasn’t so lonesome in this old town.

To read all of Dog’s Country, click here.

Airlines should ban pets from cabin, docs say

Due to the allergy risks they pose, pets should be banned from airline passenger cabins, some Canadian doctors say.

In an editorial in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, the physicians called for restricting pets from airplane passenger cabins, warning that exposure to animals can lead to discomfort, asthma attacks or even life-threatening reactions in some.

The editorial was in response to Air Canada’s decision last summer to start allowing small pets, including cats, dogs and birds, to travel in the passenger cabin, the New York Times reports.

One in 10 people have allergies to animals, and for some, exposure to dogs and cats can set off an asthma attack or a life-threatening reaction like anaphylaxis, said Dr. Matthew B. Stanbrook, the journal’s deputy scientific editor and an asthma specialist.

“Pets can be accommodated comfortably and safely in airplane cargo holds, which is where they belong,” the doctors wrote.

I know all the airlines say that, but, in addition to the cases in which that has proved not to be the case, I have one more reason to doubt it: If it were true, I’m sure they would be squeezing us human passengers in there as well.

Why I object to the Michael Vick Project

The attempted reinvention of Michael Vick continues tonight with the premiere of BET’s “Michael Vick Project” — a quasi-documentary that focuses on his alleged redemption and glosses over the horrors he perpetrated on dogs.

As its name implies, the show stars Michael Vick, who, up to now at least, has been less than convincing in the role of the remorseful, regretful and rehabilitated fighter of dogs who managed to resecure a multi-million contract as an NFL quarterback.

The word on the show is it focuses little, and then only superficially, on the evils he committed — as has been the case with his appearances at schools and before youth groups on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States.

opinion sigThose appearances, the TV show, and his Ed Block Courage Award — all focusing on Michael Vick’s travails, Michael Vick’s ”bravery,” Michael Vick’s struggle, Michael Vick’s “redemption” — are only reinforcing the concept that one can get away with murder, or at least end up sitting pretty afterwards, at least when the perpetrator is a quarterback and the victims are dogs.

At this point, let me say that I’m all for rehabilitation, and all for second chances. In the eight years I reported about and hung out with prisoners — murderers even — I came to know, trust and, in a few cases, even respect many of them. I’m not a throw away the key kind of guy.

But allowing a convict to return to society is one thing. Seeing him return to the NFL, giving him a TV show, and topping it off with a “courage award” based on — what? — are quite another.

Michael Vick has every right to pursue and obtain those things. I’m not saying he should be banned from reaping riches, or anything else, with the possible exception of dog ownership — only that it turns my stomach to watch it all, and to watch the masses not just accept it, but throw their support behind him.

Yes, he served his time. Yes, he has a right to make a living. Yes, he can throw a football. But as for his choreographed image makeover, I’m not buying it – based on the comments he has made and his seemingless emotionless demeanor. I’ve yet to see any remorse in his face, and I’ve heard far more, from him, about his suffering than that of his dogs.

There’s no question he — and many others — are putting a lot of work into redeeming his image, but that’s different from redeeming oneself.

In an a radio interview with Dan Patrick this week to promote the TV show (it premieres tonight at 10 on BET), Vick was asked if he would still be fighting dogs if he hadn’t been caught.

“That’s the scary thing,” Vick responded. “I think about it. I would have continued to put my life in jeopardy. From a distance I would have still been involved.”

James DuBose, CEO of Dubose Entertainment, which is producing the Michael Vick Project, said, ”We hope his story will be one in which years from now, people particularly young men, will view and learn valuable lessons from.”

My fear – given that in the year since he completed his less than two-year prison sentence he’s been signed up as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, given a TV show and will be honored in March with an award – is that those lessons may not be the right ones.

Time to eat the authors?

time-to-eat-the-dogNew Zealand professors Brenda and Robert Vale say the title of their book was partly tongue-in-cheek, partly shock tactic.

“Time to Eat the Dog?: A Real Guide to Sustainable Living” — and we’re thankful they at least used a question mark — doesn’t actually propose pet owners eat their dogs and cats, but it does suggest switching to pets like chickens and rabbits, which then can be eaten.

Of course, if their fate is to be eaten, they wouldn’t be pets. They’d be livestock. But the Vales, both New Zealand professors of architecture and non-dogs owners (as maybe you’d guess), don’t seem to see the distinction.

By eating our pets, the Vales say, we’d reduce their carbon footprint.

And dogs and cats, granted, make some pretty big ones — according to the Vales, the amount of land and energy it takes to make one dog’s food for a year makes for twice the carbon footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 6,213 miles a year.

A cat’s carbon footprint, meanwhile, is  “slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf.

New Scientist magazine, in an editorial, stopped short of backing the authors’ suggestion – that we should recycle our pets by eating them or turning them into pet food at the end of their lives – but it did call for reducing the impact of pets on the environment, and for the pet food industry to be more environmentally responsible.

“In a world of scarce resources, can we justify keeping pets that consume more than some people?” the editorial asks. “… Giving up our pets in the name of sustainability may seem like a sacrifice too far, but if we are going to continue to keep animals purely for our enjoyment then we have to face uncomfortable choices.

“At the moment, pet-food manufacturers thrive by selling us the idea that only the best will do for our beloved animals, but once owners become more aware, what they demand from the industry is likely to change,” the editorial notes. “The first manufacturer to offer a green, eco-friendly pet food could be onto a winner. Sustainable lifestyles require sacrifices, and even cats and dogs can be made to do their bit.”

Scary, smelly, germy: The scourge of joggers

I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.

But after a little opinion piece that appeared yesterday in a Baltimore Sun feature called Second Opinion – one that opined all dogs should always be on leashes because some of them interfere with joggers — I have no choice.

I’m coming out against joggers.

The Sun editorial blurb begins this way: “The city is fining people who let their dogs roam off-leash $1,000. I say good.

“I’m a runner, and I can’t count the number of times dogs have snapped, lurched and barked at me as I went past. Perhaps even more galling than the canine response in these situations is the human one. Almost without fail the dog’s owner will look at me with wonder and bewilderment, as if I must have done something wrong to elicit such a mysterious reaction. You may think your furry friend is cute and harmless, but I’ve got news for you: He or she is almost never quite so well behaved as you think … I object to many dog advocates’ apparent belief that leash laws should merely be a suggestion.”

Typical jogger logic, or lack thereof. The consistent jarring of the brain that occurs while jogging is the culprit, leading joggers to think they have dominion, not just over animals, but over non-jogging man, not to mention motor vehicle and bicyclist.

Joggers annoy me. Joggers scare me. Joggers get in my way and, more often, make me feel I am in their’s. They leave foul scents in their wake, and often fling off little sweat particles, which assuredly contain swine flu or other germs, as they churn their arms and pant, interfering with my God-given (but city taken away) right to enjoy tobacco products. Worse yet, they make me feel fat, lazy and unhealthy, which, even though I am, there’s no reason to so relentlessly pound that point in.

Joggers tend to eat only healthy and fibrous food, and as a result have no sense of humor.

Most irksome though, they think they are above everyone else. They — though I must admit some dog people fit this one too — often come across as holier than thou, or at least skinnier than thou.

Joggers like everything to be predictable. Dogs are not. That’s what makes them more interesting than joggers. True, humans are more intelligent, meaning they should have the brains to maybe adjust their path or swerve out of the way when nearing dogs. But joggers don’t, because they don’t want to vary their monotonous route and run the risk of seeing something new.

They are a hazard, traveling at an unsafe speed, often while tuning everything out except the music pumping through their ear buds, thus endangering small children, and the elderly.

On the sidewalks, they get impatient if someone is so crass as to be walking in front of them at a normal rate of speed, forcing them to slow their all-important pace. If they run up against a traffic signal, they tend to either violate the law and jayrun, or, far more annoying yet, do that little running in place thing they do while they wait for the signal to change.

There is, I’m told, something called a runner’s high. While I would not interfere with a joggers’ right to achieve this state of euphoria, I think it should be done in the privacy of their homes, or in a stinky gym on a treadmill – not out in public, and certainly not, in their intoxicated state, on the roadways and sidewalks.

It doesn’t seem right that dogs are taking all the heat when it comes to park issues — least of all from joggers. There are far more annoying things at the park — any park — on any given day. Joggers, as I believe I’ve mentioned, but also operators of little remote control cars that make an awful whiny noise, annoying to both humans and dogs. Also people who drop the f-bomb every third or fourth word, often with their children alongside them. Also skateboarders. Also drug dealers. Also spitters. Also people playing music louder than any dog could ever bark. I could go on, but the point is, should we criminalize all of them?

Of course not.

Only the joggers.

Man could lose house for refusing to leash dog

A man in Tarpon Springs, Florida, is sticking to his guns — and threatening to use them — in a protracted battle over walking his dog without a leash.

Robert Wirth Jr. has spent $100,000 in legal fees on the case, and may lose his house, all because of walking his dog in a deed-restricted community without a leash.

“We’re running out of time because we’re running out of money,” said Wirth, 52, who works as a real estate broker and continues to walk his black Labrador, Cole, without a leash.

In January 2003, the River Watch Homeowners Association fined Wirth and his wife, Sandra L. Blaker, $1,000 for letting Cole walk without a leash. When the couple didn’t pay, the association filed a lien and, later that year, foreclosed on the home to collect the debt.

Last year, a circuit judge ordered Wirth and his wife to pay the fine, plus interest, attorney fees and other costs or the house would be sold. Wirth now owes more than $40,000, he said. He filed another appeal in February 2008, which has yet to be ruled on.

Wirth argued that the River Watch Homeowners Association deed restriction –  “A dog must be kept on a leash at all times when outside” — is too broad and, as written, required even dogs in fenced yards to be on leashes.

Wirth’s frustration have escalated to the point that he not too wisely said he would shoot and kill one of the board members if things don’t go his way. “I am not going to let them ruin me and my wife like this without standing up to them,” Wirth said.

Wirth’s comments were reported to the Tarpon Springs police, which followed up. The agency said the threat didn’t appear imminent, but that authorities would monitor the situation.

The St. Petersburg Times, in an editorial today, comes down on the side of the homeowner’s association, calling Wirth’s defiance of the rule ”stubborn and illogical.”

The editorial argues that the couple, by buying the house, agreed to the restriction and states that, no matter how well-behaved a dog might be “there are no guarantees when dealing with an animal.”

The full story an be found here. The editorial is here.