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Tag: life

The last living 9/11 search and rescue dog?

TrakratGroundZero

A golden retriever named Bretagne is all over the Internet today — today being 9/11 — looking much grayer around the muzzle than she did in 2001 and being described as the only search and rescue dog at the World Trade Center who is still living.

Whether that’s accurate depends on how you define “living.”

Not to pick nits, but there’s another dog, a German shepherd named Trakr — said by some to have found the last human survivor of the World Trade Center attack — who lives on … in a way.

Trakr was cloned in 2009, after his owner, a police officer turned actor, won an essay contest seeking the world’s most “cloneworthy” dog.

Five little clones of Trakr were born, after Trakr’s death at age 16 in 2009, and arrived in the U.S. from the Korean laboratory in which the procedure took place.

It’s a long story, one you can read about in the book, “DOG, INC.,” which recounts how dog cloning became a commercial enterprise.

Here’s the short version: Trakr was the partner of  James Symington, a Halifax, Nova Scotia,  police officer. When Trakr was retired, Symington claimed him as his own. On Sept. 11, 2001, after seeing news reports, Symington, without authorization from his department, took Trakr to the World Trade Center.

There, as Symington recounts it, Trakr discovered Genelle Guzman buried in the rubble — the last survivor found.

Others dispute his account.

Symington later moved to California to pursue a career in acting, taking Trakr with him. When an American company called BioArts announced it was holding a “Golden Clone Giveaway,” Symington submitted an essay, and won.

BioArts footed the bill (about $150,000) and sent samples of Trakr’s DNA to South Korean veterinarian Hwang Woo-Suk, who was on the team at Seoul National University that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy. He’d since been fired and opened his own laboratory, Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.

Trakr’s DNA was inserted into five “surrogate” egg cells, each of which was zapped with electricity and implanted into a different female dog.

SONY DSC

In June 2009 five clone puppies were born and, a few months later, delivered to Symington. He named them Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deja Vu, and said he planned to train them all as search as rescue dogs who would carry on Trakr’s legacy.

They seem to have fallen out of the limelight since then, and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated for a couple of years.

Earlier this year, the man who pushed dog cloning and sponsored the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” in an apparent turnaround, said cloning dogs — a service still offered in South Korea — was not a viable, profitable, or humane pursuit, noting that it took up to 80 dogs to clone just one.

Lou Hawthorne headed BioArts, and spearheaded the earliest (unsuccessful) efforts to clone dog at Texas A&M University. That research was funded by University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, who died last month.

While some of the main characters involved in dog cloning seem to be fading from public view, from Trakr’s clones to Sperling, dog cloning is not — Sooam Biotech is still carrying out clonings for customers who want duplicates of their dead or dying pets, at a price that has dropped to about $100,000.

But back to the dog who is in the news — Bretagne. She returned this week to the site of the former World Trade Center complex with her longtime handler and owner, where they were interviewed by Tom Brokaw for NBC’s Today Show.

Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”) is one of eight finalists for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards, and later this month she’ll travel with her owner to Beverly Hills for the awards ceremony.

My hunch, and hope, is that Bretagne is not destined to be cloned, and that her owner realizes what many customers of dog cloning have not — every dog, and every person, is one of a kind. And one of a kind means one of a kind. That special something inside your dog can’t be re-created in a laboratory.

State Supreme Court to decide Onion’s fate

The Nevada Supreme Court — no stranger to such matters — will decide whether Onion, the Mastiff mix who killed his owner’s grandson on his first birthday, should live or die.

The court will hear arguments — 30 minutes worth, it has specified — on July 3 before deciding whether the city of Henderson should be allowed to kill the dog.

Another option has been offered by the Lexus Project, a New York-based organization that provides legal representation to dogs.

The Lexus Project intervened in the case and wants to gain custody of Onion, then send him to live at a secure sanctuary in Colorado.

The 120-pound mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix killed Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan by biting him on the head the day of his first birthday party. Later that day, the owner turned Onion over to Henderson animal control officers, who planned to kill the dog in accordance with the city’s vicious-dog ordinance.

The city turned down the Lexus Project’s offer to take responsibility for the dog, and has fought its request to be awarded custody. Onion’s former owner now wants Lexus to have the dog, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

The court battle has been going on for a year now.

Last year, Clark County District Court Joanna Kishner ruled the city of Henderson could proceed with the dog’s execution.

The state Supreme Court issued a stay — it’s second in the case — until arguments could be heard.

Those will take place July 3 at 11:30 a.m.

Serendipity: The curious routes stuff takes

A rolling stone gathers no moss. We’re not rolling stones anymore.

During our year of travel, Ace I and I gathered few things that we did not immediately consume – simply because, living out of a Jeep Liberty, the bulk of it being occupied by a big dog, there was no space for them (though we did get that cowboy hat).

Once we came to a stop – for now, at least, settling into the home I was born in 57 years ago – we have again fallen under the tyranny of stuff.

For nine months, free of stuff’s burden, we bounced around the country, going to a new town every day or two, and during that time accumulated virtually nothing except friends and stories. After that, during our month-long stops – dwelling in a trailer park in the Arizona desert, an unfurnished house in Baltimore and the basement of a mansion in North Carolina – we slowly started to get new things. Now that we plan to stay put, for six months or more, in Winston Salem – and have hauled the contents of my storage unit down south – we are inundated.

Sorting through it all is equal parts joy and hassle, and it has led me to this conclusion: The more still you stay, the more stuff you need — or think you do.

But there’s something else I’ve come to realize, sifting through my personal effects, about stuff: Inanimate as it may be, it has a life of its own, and it often goes on a journey of its own, down a path different than ours. That’s how I end up with your stuff, and you end up with my stuff.

I’m amazed at how much of “my stuff” wasn’t originally my stuff, at how perhaps even the majority of my belongings – furniture in particular – was handed down, recycled, procured through Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, or rescued from Dumpsters into which, in my view, it had been disposed of prematurely.

Our stuff, like people, like dogs, comes and goes from our lives. It moves on to the homes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers, via Goodwill, eBay or Craigslist (a good place to get stuff, just not dogs). It ends up, or so I like to think, where it’s most needed.

I told you last week about my mother’s desk, which became a home furnishing about the same time I did. It was in this house when I was born. I grew up with it in New York and, later, Texas. After my parents’ divorce, my mother kept it until she moved into a retirement community, and I hauled it up to Baltimore. Now, it has circled back to the first home it was ever in.

In my new place, the bed and coffee table I’m using are my cousin’s; the book I’m reading belongs to a Baltimore friend; the dining table I eat on was purchased, via Craigslist, from a local couple who started life together with it, but couldn’t take the fact that it only had three, not four, matching chairs. My clothes are in a dresser that I think once belonged to my father’s parents.

But most of my furniture — not counting that which came from Ikea or WalMart — came from my mother.

She revisited it all last week, coming over for dinner. My sofa, loveseat actually (though rarely used for that purpose, if you don’t count Ace), is one of two matching ones she had. When she moved into a retirement community, she only had room for one. The other went with me to Baltimore, but now sits in my new place, less than a mile away from its mate. In my place, too, are, among her former possessions,  some marble egg-shaped bookends, a wingback chair and an old rocking chair she made a point of trying out one more time.

There’s also a large amount of stuff from my ex-girlfriend/still goodfriend, including five of her artworks, now prominently displayed. During my travels she kept some of my stuff.  In my recent move, I got some of it back, left some with her, and took a few things she was looking to get rid of, including two bedside tables, some decorative pillows and this tray-like accessory that really pops, which I further like because the blue part reminds me of Ace’s tail.

I reclaimed my blender, for instance, but she kept my grill, my fire pit and, though I could never understand why she wanted it,  a sad looking little platform I once built out of three pieces of plywood to make my computer monitor sit higher.

A few weeks ago, it became, with some slight modifications, a hutch for a group of new born bunnies found in her neighborhood.

Our stuff passes from parent to child, from brother to sister, from neighbor to neighbor, from friend to friend, and sometimes even makes it way from home office to animal kingdom.

About three months ago, I gave my friend Arnie in Baltimore my old, then in storage, bookcases. Just last week I sent him the hardware needed to put them together, found in the very last box I unpacked. The couple that moved into the Baltimore rowhouse I rented now has my entertainment center — solely because it was too darned heavy to move.

I guess we all go through life simultaneously shedding and gathering. I turn to Goodwill for both. It has lots of my stuff, and I have lots of their’s, because sometimes we part with stuff that, shortly thereafter, we find ourselves needing again. While staying for a month in an unfurnished rowhouse in Baltimore, I bought this lamp. If I sell it again, it will have to be for five dollars, because the price drawn on its silver base with black marker, I’ve found, is impossible to remove.

During my mother’s visit last week — and we’ll give you the full “reveal” of my new place next week – she also recognized a footstool that once belonged to her. It’s the only item that did not really fit in with my new color scheme — color schemes, though the phrase sounds nefarious,  being another thing, like accessories that pop, I learned the importance of during my unfortunate addiction to HGTV.

My mother had re-covered the footstool decades ago with a shiny striped fabric of mauve and blue, so it would match a chair she had re-covered in the same material.

She agreed that, given my color scheme, I should re-cover it again.

“What’s underneath this cover?” I asked. She had no idea.

Removing a few tacks, I pulled it off to reveal the original cushion cover — a handmade needlepoint by her aunt “Tan,” whose grave we had visited and put flowers on the day before Easter.

At the time, not remembering her that well, I attempted to learn more about Tan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall. There’s a school named after her in Winston-Salem, but I could find little information about her on the Internet, as she died in 1983. Leaving a potted delphinium on her grave, I regretted that — even supplied some memories by my brother and my mother — I could reconnect with her only superficially.

It was a little eerie  — her handiwork turning up in my house a week after I visited her grave. But it added a little more heritage to my new place, a link (real, not the Internet kind) to another family member, not to mention, though I’m no expert on it, what appears to be some damn good needlepoint.

And, in an added touch of serendipity, it matches my color scheme.

Woman dives into Hudson to save her dog

Molly Pfeiffer was walking with her unleashed Wheaten terrier near New York’s Pier 54 Tuesday when the dog, named Boogie, ran after a gull and jumped into the Hudson River.

Molly, 29, followed, snagging her dog, hoisting her up on a plank beneath the pier and calling for help as she hung on to a pylon.

“I saw her go down into the water and I went after her,” Pfeiffer told the New York Daily News. “The current was pretty strong. She was going to drown … I grabbed Boogie and pulled her up on to one of the wooden supports on the pier. It was covered with algae and really slippery.”

A passerby heard Pfeiffer’s cries and dialed 911, and officers on a police department boat plucked Pfeiffer and Boogie from the water.

Pfeiffer thanked the stranger who called for help: “He saved my life and Boogie’s.” She said she’d do the same thing again: “I love [Boogie] very much or I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

Most Daily News readers feel the same way. In an online poll, the newspaper asked readers if they would jump into a river to save their pet.

Eighty percent answered “in a heartbeat.”

(Photos: From the New York Daily News)

Tales of debasement: Living 6 feet under

One of the disadvantages of living six feet under – aside from the lack of sunlight, of which we’ve already spoken – is the worms.

I measured the other day and determined that the entrance to the basement apartment Ace and I are living in is exactly six feet beneath ground level. I’m trying – despite coming from a family of undertakers – to not read anything into that.

It was while trying not to read anything into it, standing in the stairwell just outside my door to smoke a cigarette — here in a town that owes its existence to, as they’re sometimes called, coffin nails — that I noticed the worms, slithering by my feet.

The “man cave,” as the owner of the mansion in North Carolina calls it, is a fine place – warm, clean and comfortable, with a wood burning stove.

But living in a basement can play games with your mind – both dog mind and human mind, I think.

Ace has shown a distinct preference for the upstairs, and I don’t think it’s solely because its occupant, the homeowner, is prone to handing him treats – making sure to give one to her dog, Lord Barkley, at the same time.

He dashes up the ten stairs to the outside, ground-level world, and shows some hesitancy when it’s time to head back down. Twice now, I’ve returned from brief outings to hear him moaning from the bowels of the mansion – eerie moans that cease as soon as he hears me coming down the stairs.

I’m wondering if he has a touch of seasonal affective disorder, or if maybe he’s sensing some evil spirits lurking within the mansion walls. Or, it could just be the newness of it – though he’s stayed in about 100 new places over the past nine months. It might even be the fireplace. The sound of crackling wood distresses him, and he tends to never forget sources of distress.

Possibly, he – a very social dog — is bothered by the lack of socialization that seemingly comes with living in a basement. Even though we get out several times a day, there’s a sense of solitude when you’re a cellar dweller that follows you up to the earth’s surface – a feeling that you’re disappearing, a need to shout, “Hey, I’m here. Look at me. You do see me, don’t you?”

Maybe other people can’t see you anymore. Maybe, the memory of you, too, is vanishing.

John and Ace? Oh yeah, they used to hang around the park. Nice dog. Didn’t he write a book about something … John, I mean. Whatever happened to them?

Last I heard they’d gone underground. They’re with the worms now.

Sorry to hear that. Ace will be missed.

The worms aren’t actually that bad. They come out of a drainpipe built into the bottom step, then slither their way to an underground drain in the floor, about 18 inches away, go down that hole and – I’m guessing here, because they all look alike — continue to make the circuit every time it rains.

I’m not sure whether their journey is intentional, or not. Perhaps it’s a light at the end of the tunnel thing. Perhaps they’re seeking some refreshment, a quick burst of sunlight, then taking the subway back home to their families beneath the dirt. But, in any case,  I think they might be on to something.

The secret to living underground, in addition to buying more lamps, is to get out as much as possible.

Then again, partly a result, I think, of my subterranean lifestyle, I have a growing fear – unrealistic as it might be — that I might not be accepted on the actual surface of the earth; that when I slowly emerge, pale and slow-moving, blinking my eyes in the harsh light of day, perhaps a worm or two squirming in my hair, I might frighten people.

They might shriek in horror. “He’s coming out! He’s coming out!” They might run away, convinced that I am intent on drinking their blood, or, worse yet, smoking a cigarette.

“Hideous monster. Why can’t he just stay underground, where he can’t infect us with his evil ways?” they’d say. “We don’t need his likes up here.”

“Nice dog, though.”

NC college starts pet-friendly dorm

Lees-McRae College, located in the mountains of North Carolina, has designated its first pet-friendly dormitory, allowing students who live there to bring along their dogs, cats, birds, fish, ferrets, and hamsters.

With the opening of the Spring 2011 semester, Bentley Residence Hall went co-species. 

“I am so excited that Lees-McRae College has joined the ranks of pet friendly colleges and universities.  We love our pets and we recognize that students who are pet owners are generally responsible and caring individuals,” said Barry M. Buxton, president of the Presbyterian college. “We want to encourage pet adoption and awareness that all of God’s creatures are sacred.”

Students living in Bentley Hall are now allowed to bring their pets from home to school with them to live in their rooms. Under the new policy, qualifying students can have fish, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, ferrets, cats and dogs under 40 pounds. (We’d argue dogs over 40 pounds are sacred, too.)

Previously, students were only allowed to have fish in residence hall rooms.

Under the new pet friendly policy, faculty and staff are also encouraged to bring their pets to campus.

“It is great to be able to have my two dogs for companionship while I am studying and doing homework in my room,” said student Lauren Lampley, owner of Shih Tzus Heidi and Buckley. “This responsibility also forces me to manage my time well enough to take care of them and make sure I make time to spend with them.”

The approved pets for the inaugural pet friendly program include a Boston Terrier, a small Labrador retriever, two Shih Tzus, a pomeranian/Chihuahua mix, a miniature dachshund, a Maine coon mix, a Siamese mix, a leopard gecko, a Dutch rabbit, two ferrets and two birds.

The new policy represents the latest in a trend toward colleges welcoming pets, noted Joshua Fried, director of Petside.com: “We know how much the companionship of a pet can benefit a college student, particularly in the form of stress-relief and as a remedy for homesickness.”

“Now I have two alarms,” one student joked. “When I ignore my alarm clock, my dog licks my face and my nose until I get up. She really cares about my education.”

Lees-McRae College, a four-year, co-educational liberal arts college, is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina in the town of Banner Elk.

(Photo courtesy of Lees-McCrae College)

My life in a box

It occured to me, when I heaved open the heavy metal door to the storage unit that has held most of my possessions for the past eight months — unveiling disarray, peppered with mouse poop – that what was revealed wasn’t just a metaphor for my life.

It was my life — up to now — in a box.

Virtually all my worldly possessions, except my dog — and, though he’s worldly, I don’t really possess him — are in there.

Cash value? Not much. Emotional value? Depends on which box you open. Overall importance? Given the fact that I didn’t miss any of it in eight months, next to nothing.

But when I moved out of my house in Baltimore to hit the road with my dog last May, I packed it all, and hauled it all, and stacked it all and secured it all with big strong lock.

Because, for me to be truly liberated, all my stuff had to be incarcerated.

We in the free world are slaves to our stuff. We are slaves to our jobs, which allow us to get more stuff. We are slaves to our mortgages, and utility bills, and the Internet and other technology we grow to depend on. Most of all, we are slaves to health insurance.

That, maybe more than anything — especially for those 40 and above — is why we stay in jobs we hate. Sometimes we hate them so much it makes us physically sick — especially when our workload quadruples so that stockholders can get a second yacht. But that’s OK because we have health insurance.

I gave up my regular job — with a salary and health insurance — more than two years ago at the age of 55. It was scary then. It’s scary now.

Unable to afford both health insurance and housing, I’ve opted to go with an alternative health plan whose protocol will be followed in the event of serious illness. It’s known as CIACAD (Crawl Into A Corner And Die.)

For my dental plan, I’ve chosen LTARAFO (Let Them All Rot And Fall Out).

For vision — it being more important than to me than life or chewing — I’ll likely pay my own way, as opposed to going with SAGAMG (Shutup And Get A Magnifying Glass).

I need to check into all these health insurance reforms, but my guess is whatever Obama-care benefits might apply to me probably, with my luck, are scheduled to kick in the day after I die.

But this post isn’t about death. It’s about life, and how we choose to live it — and how that, for most of us, is in a really big box, divided up into smaller boxes, some with plumbing and appliances, and all, of course, filled with stuff.

All my stuff, when it wasn’t scattered from room to room, fit nicely into a one-car-garage-sized storage compartment.

I started off loading it in a very organized manner, but running out of time, sped up to the point that much of it isn’t organized at all. Some boxes are labeled; others are mysteries. There are many boxes that say books, but there are only four or five books I need right now, and going through 20 boxes to find them – all of course trapped back at the very rear of the unit — would be a real time absorber.

So how is my storage unit a metaphor for my life?

First, it’s in disarray. I’m guessing an x-ray of my brain would look a lot like the inside of my storage unit. My stuff is not organized, not immediately locatable. My stuff is in limbo. My stuff, like me, has no idea where it will be a year from now.

There are some treasures in there. A baseball with Willie Mays’ autograph; photos of my son arriving from Korea; the goofy white cap I had to wear at my first job, selling burgers; my Pulitzer Prize (it’s just a sheet of paper); yellowed newspaper stories written nearly 35-plus years ago.

There are four or five boxes of strictly sentimental value. They contain memories. But I don’t remember where they are.

The stuff I need — certain books, forks, long underwear — are all buried somewhere at the back of the unit. The stuff I have no use for right now – my bicycle, golf clubs, tennis rackets — are all right at the front.

Part of me thinks it would be nice to have a place of my own, where I could unpack my stuff and organize it and live amongst it. Part of me thinks that would again make me a slave to my stuff, and all those previously mentioned other things that tie us down.

Here is what I am wondering — after the eight months Ace and I lived in a boat, trailer, tent, my car, cheap motel rooms, and the homes of friends and strangers as we traversed the U.S.:

Is what’s stuffed in that big metal box my life? Or, is my life over there, down that road winding into the horizon?

Do we treasure our past and present to the point that we shortchange our future? Is it possible, for those eking out an existence — as opposed to rolling in money — to have both security and adventure? Is it possible to properly nourish relationships with friends and family — in more than a superficial Facebook kind of way — without living right where they live?

In a way, it should be less complicated for me, having no “partner,” except for my big fuzzy one; having not just an empty nest, but no nest at all.

I should be able to figure this out.

If you’re wondering who that woman is in the back of the storage unit, that’s my beer sign lady — a cardboard cut-out, who, like much of my furniture, I rescued from a Dumpster. I picked her up last winter, but, in the months that followed, found her a bit one-dimensional and not at all good at conversation.

When I moved my stuff into storage, I assigned her the task of watching over it all.

She did a lousy job.

Somehow, all my (mostly) neatly stacked boxes started leaning, and teetering, and falling. She did nothing, and apparently wasn’t much help in scaring visiting mice away.

I think, when I finally do locate myself, I will get rid of her.

The bigger decision, though, is where I belong — warmly ensconced in a home of my own, or among the realm of vagabonds, like those RV nomads who kept their wanderlust in check until retirement kicked in and have been happily rolling along ever since?

When the road calls again, and I’m sure it will, will I answer?

For instance, Internet security is absolutely critical nowadays yet it was more inclined to get away from it.
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And further, further and unwittingly, she came wheezing back to Juana.