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Tag: louisiana

Best Western could do better


You’d think a big hotel-motel chain would know and share the rules when it comes to service dogs — even one whose inns are “individually owned and operated.”

By federal law, service dogs are allowed. No ifs, ands or buts.

But a Best Western in Baton Rouge, citing its policy prohibiting dogs, recently denied reservations to a North Carolina family whose golden retriever serves as an epilepsy alert dog to their 13-year-old son, Beau.

Chip goes everywhere with Beau, who has a rare type of epilepsy called Landau-Kleffner Syndrome. “Chip alerts us to when Beau is having a seizure,” Beau’s mother, Karen Vaughn, told KPLC.

But after Vaughn made an online reservation at a Best Western in Baton Rouge, pointing out that service dog Chip would be among their party, the motel notified her that the reservation was being refused because the inn doesn’t allow dogs.

Vaughn, who is an attorney specializing in the rights of children with special needs, said that after she raised a stink the corporate office called back, a week later, saying they would honor the reservation. She said no thanks.

Normally, we would say sue the pants off the motel’s individual owner, and sue the pants off Best Western corporate honchos, too.

But Best Western has an unusual corporate structure — one they’ve argued doesn’t comprise a profit-making corporation, but is more of a cooperative. All hotels are individually owned and operated, and Best Western, from its headquarters in Phoenix, provides only reservations, marketing, brand identity and support services.

Individual owners of Best Western inns are allowed to make their own rules — but not rules that violate federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Best Western spokesman told ohmidog! that the Baton Rouge motel has been temporarily banned from representing itself as a Best Western hotel.

“Best Western International has restricted the hotel on our reservations systems and we have required the hotel to stop representing itself as a Best Western branded hotel (cover or remove all Best Western signs and logos) until its representatives attend a hearing at our corporate headquarters at which their future association with Best Western will be decided,” he said.

“Best Western International requires each independently owned and operated hotel to comply with all federal, state and local laws and standards, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We provide extensive training to ensure our hotels understand and address the needs of guests with special needs. When this matter came to our attention, we immediately provided direction to the hotel and a reservation was offered to the family.

“We deeply regret the matter and we will continue to proactively communicate ADA requirements and training to Best Western branded hotels to ensure all guests are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.”

Best Western’s website boasts about their 1,600 pet-friendly locations.

Mutt shot for copulating with purebred

shotYou can’t blame Raider.

Maybe you can blame his owner — for not getting his front door fixed, and for not getting Raider fixed — but the 4-year-old Labrador mix was only doing what intact dogs tend to do, when the neighbor dog goes into heat.

The mutt went out the unlatched front door, and over to the home of a neighbor, who authorities say shot Raider twice when he caught him copulating with his prized purebred.

The neighbor, Randall Schexnayder, 51, of Metairie, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.

Raider is expected to recover from gunshot wounds to the muzzle and neck, according to his owner, Jim Hanley, 43. The dog disappeared last Wednesday, returning a few hours later covered in blood. Initially, Hanley thought Raider had been hit by a car, the Times-Picayune reported.

He took the dog to a vet, who told him Raider had been shot.

Hanley told the sheriff’s office who he suspected. A couple of neighbors had complained about Raider getting loose, and one had warned Hanley that he would take action if he ever caught Raider mounting his purebred dog.

When deputies called on that neighbor — Schexnayder —  he admitted shooting the dog. He told the deputies he chased the dog off once, but when the dog returned, and attempted to mount his pet — whose breed wasn’t identified — he shot Raider twice with a .22-caliber pistol.

Schexnayder turned the gun and Raider’s collar over to authorities and was briefly jailed before being released on bond, according to the New Orleans Advocate.

Hanley, while not denying his dog accosted his neighbor’s purebred, said that doesn’t justify his dog getting shot.

“I understand that (a strange dog mating with a prize female) would be upsetting, but it would never cross my mind to pull out a firearm,” he said. “I think my first move would have been calling animal control. I mean, my Lord.”

Raider is named after the Archbishop Rummel High School Raiders.

New York’s state dog could be the mutt

Two New York state legislators plan to introduce a bill today to name an official state dog — and they’re suggesting it be the mutt.

Assemblyman Micah Kellner, an Upper East Side Democrat, and State Senator Joseph E. Robach, a Rochester Republican, are proposing the legislation.

If passed, New York would join about a dozen states that have named state dogs, including the Chesapeake Bay retriever in Maryland, the Great Dane in Pennsylvania, the and the Boston terrier in … take a wild guess.

(If you think you know your state dogs, take this quiz — or, if you’re a cheater, go straight to the answers.)

No state has chosen the mixed breed — that most prolific of all dogs — to represent its state.

In New York, a spokesman for Kellner said the assemblyman would choose a rescue dog — as in rescued from a shelter — to symbolize the need for people to adopt pets from animal shelters and animal protection groups. Kellner has no dogs of his own, but he has provided foster care for several.

“He’s a huge advocate for animals in need,” the spokesman told the New York Times.

Also appearing at the announcement of the proposed bill will be Kim Wolf’s dog, Sarge Wolf-Stringer, a Philadelphia dog who was rescued in 2009 from an abusive owner by the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and who now works with the elderly and hospital patients as a certified therapy dog.

(Photo: A Baltimore mutt named Martini)

Gourd is great, gourd is good

Here’s an exit sign that piqued my curiosity — enough to make me veer off the interstate to figure out just what makes a pumpkin Baptist, and why they need their own center.

Are Baptist pumpkins preachier? Do they go all fire and brimstone? Do they achieve life everlasting, or is that dream just pie in the sky?

I pictured a chapel filled with orange orbs, sharing fellowship, singing hymns. I wondered if other denominations of gourds had similar facilities — say, Catholic Cantaloupes, Jewish Watermelons, Seventh Day Adventist Squash?

What makes these Baptist pumpkins so holier than thou to think they deserve their own center, even their own exit sign, I wondered as I exited Interstate 55 in Louisiana, not far from Hammond.

Before I was even off the exit ramp, I realized I was barking up the wrong vine.

Baptist was one way, Pumpkin Center the other. Less intrigued, I just got back on the interstate.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)

More help for the big dogs of St. Bernard

It has been more than a month since our extended road trip took us through Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish, where we reported on how cash-strapped fishing families were finding it hard to continue caring for their pets since the oil spill ruined their industry.

Now, we’re happy to report, more help has arrived, which could help stem the tide of people surrendering their dogs because they can no longer afford them.

Twenty tons of Kibbles ‘n Bits (for large dogs) – donated by Del Monte Foods and transported by Best Friends — was dropped off earlier this month.

Large dogs, you’ll recall, are numerous in the parish southeast of New Orleans because many residents used them to guard their properties while rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

“The people who are coming in have big dogs,” says Beth Brewster, director of the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter. “They can’t afford to feed them.”

Brewster told Best Friends that many families picking up free dog food bring photos of their dogs with them, and share their dog’s story. “They have tears in their eyes. They’re very, very thankful,” she says. “It’s one less thing they have to worry about.”

The Louisiana SPCA has collaborated with Brewster and Best Friends, as a part of Best Friends’ First Home Forever Home campaign, and is setting up distribution sites, in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

To get the food, residents fill out an application, present a commercial fishing license or proof that they work as charter boat operators or in another field affected by the spill.

“These families have not only lost their livelihoods, but also their way of life practically overnight. They shouldn’t have to face losing members of their families, too. It’s just too much to expect anybody to bear,” said Ellen Gilmore, campaign specialist for Best Friends’ First Home Forever Home.

On music, memories and the open road

This trip, whatever else it’s about, is also about nostalgia, and I got a big dose of it on the drive to Houston – most of it induced by the long-distance driver’s best friend, the radio.

Music, like old friends revisited and roads previously traveled, can be a powerful memory trigger.

Music and roads, in fact, have a lot in common.

The road itself has a rhythm – the steady thwack-thwack percussion of cracks in the highway, the different humming tones produced by different road surfaces, the rat-a-tat drum roll when you accidentally veer across those lane divider bumps, which always causes Ace to, ever so briefly, wake up.

Then, on the Interstate at least, there is the familiar chorus: Exit ahead … Food, Gas, Lodging … Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell.

When it comes to roads, some are pop roads, also known as Interstate highways, where you’re not likely to see anything you haven’t seen before. There are classical roads, like Route 66; and blues roads, which are dark and swampy with moss hanging from the trees. There are jazz roads, which meander, make abrupt turns and have unpredictable curves and riffs. There are alternate, or alternative highways, which often lead to something interesting; and of course there are country roads, which may or may not take you home … to the place … you belong.

On Friday, with the radio blasting, I traveled a swampy stretch of I-10 – a combination blues/pop road — from Baton Rouge to Lafayette, crossing a piece of the Atchafalaya Swamp, whose name itself is almost musical. During the drive I had four flashbacks, three of them music-induced.

Blame the first on the Red Hot Chili Peppers – the musical group that, like the vegetable, tends to come back and haunt me.

Read more »

St. Bernard: The imperishable parish

If you don’t think dogs are being hurt by the BP oil spill, perhaps you need a lesson in the trickle down – or, in this case, ooze down – theory of disaster economics.

And there may be no better place to learn it than St. Bernard Parish, southeast of New Orleans, a community that was struggling to survive to begin with, left underwater by Hurricane Katrina and, with more than half of its families owing their incomes to fishing, is now feeling the rippling ramifications of the oil spill.

They evacuated during the hurricane, came back and have been rebuilding ever since. Now, the oil rig explosion and subsequent contamination of the gulf means a loss of work and more sacrificing.

Right down to the family dog.

This one statistic pretty much sums it up: The St. Bernard Parish animal shelter took in 60 dogs in May 2009; this May it saw 288 come in, many of them surrendered by owners who, having at least temporarily lost their livelihoods to the oil spill, said they could no longer afford to provide care for their dogs.

That sad-eyed girl above, named Abby, arrived at the shelter a week ago, surrendered by a family that subsisted on harvesting seafood from the gulf – only a few pockets of which are still open to shrimping, crabbing, and oyster harvesting.

While some fisherman have turned to working on the cleanup, “they’re not making nowhere near what they were making before,” said Shannon Asevedo, a St. Bernard Parish animal control officer.

Another occupant of the shelter, Sasha, was owned by a BP employee who turned her over to his mother-in-law because he was being called upon to travel so much. When Sasha had ten pups last month, it was more than she could handle. Now all 11 are at the shelter, where the BP employee’s ex-wife works as a volunteer – partly so she can see her former dog. Due to financial and legal problems, she’s unable to care for Sasha as well.

“Our intakes have probably doubled if not tripled since the oil spill,” Asevedo said. “They may not all be related to it. Most people just say they can’t afford to take care of them anymore. It’s a shame. More are here because their parents can’t take care of them. At the same time, adoption rates are down, too. So where do they go?”

St. Bernard Parish Animal Services Director Beth Brewster says the shelter attempts to place all dogs in adoptive homes, ships some to rescue groups and tries to put down only those deemed aggressive.

Interestingly, the shelter sees a large number of large dogs and pit bulls. Families returning to rebuild after Katrina often bought large dogs and left them at their homes at night to protect against the theft of construction materials.

Brewster, in the job for two years now, said the parish’s previous shelter, with a capacity of 26 dogs, “was a dump.” The parish opened its new facility this January, with financial help from the Humane Society of the United States and FEMA.

The old shelter had reopened shortly after Katrina, but went nearly two years without electricity or running water. It strung together hoses to bring in water, and used extension cords to supply electricity. It, unlike the new facility, had no air conditioning, which took a toll on dogs and humans alike.

The shelter was so shoddy that the shelter bought an old school bus and would load it with adoptable dogs, parking in front of the Home Depot and trying to find them homes.

Now they have a gleaming new shelter, and a new air-conditioned mobile unit. But they also have more dogs than even their new and expanded capacity can handle, with more and more dogs being surrendered for economic reasons.

“This is not a wealthy community to begin with,” Brewster said. “Most of these people grew up on the water and more than half make their living on it.”

Recognizing the parish’s problems, the Humane Society of the United States has sent a shipment of dog food to the area, to be distributed to pet owners facing hardships associated with the gulf oil spill. The food is also being distributed in Plaquemines Parish.

“The Humane Society of the United States was saddened to hear that animals inland from the shoreline are also suffering from this disaster,” said Julia Breaux, the organization’s Louisiana director.

St. Bernard Parish, as you’ve probably guessed, is not named after the dog breed, but after the actual saint — Saint Bernard, who devoted himself to the conversion of the people of the Alps and is known as the patron saint of mountaineering.

But the determined people of the parish may have more in common with the dog breed, which is named after St. Bernard’s Pass in the Alps (which is named after the Saint). The dogs were brought to a famous hospice there in the 1600s, where they developed their reputation for mountain rescues and where, it is said, rugged and adverse conditions honed their strong instinct for survival.

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