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Tag: myths

Inspired by Michael Phelps and that shark, I arrange an inter-species race of my own

phelpsshark

Some of you might have caught Michael Phelps in his dramatic and courageous race with that great white shark, shown in a Discovery Channel special the other night.

It was yet another inspiring moment in the career of the Olympian, who is a close personal (Facebook) friend of mine.

So inspiring it was that it led me to challenge some creatures from another species to a fully legitimate, no trick photography, race of our own.

Since I write about animals, and am a pretty major celebrity myself, it seemed worth doing, or at least as worth doing as your typical Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, History Channel program.

And humans racing animals has a long and stupid history. Jesse Owens raced a horse. Several athletes have tried to outrun cheetahs. Others have gone up against dogs and ostriches.

True, I am not exactly at my athletic peak these days. I’m still getting over having a kidney removed and, as a result, I’m moving a little more slowly and with a little more discomfort than usual.

satireBut — being a competitive soul (like Mike) — I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I carefully researched and chose the creatures I would competing against.

To capture the contest on video, I hired someone to film it. Being a little strapped for funds, what with hospital bills and all, my videographer was actually a wino I found downtown who, once he got the camera pointed the right way, seemed up to the task.

Unfortunately, he framed the shots in such a way that I don’t appear in them as I glide down the asphalt at what is now my full speed. Don’t let that make you doubt the authenticity of all this though, for my journalistic ethics are every bit as solid as the Discovery Channel, or for that matter, the History Channel, or the Learning Channel.

To further uphold the integrity of the event, I arranged for four judges with unimpeachable reputations to oversee the race — Ryan Lochte, D.B. Cooper, Yeti and Amelia Earhart.

I won’t put off the suspense any longer, because I know you are all dying to see it. Here is the footage:

While the snail broke out to an early lead, the slug managed to stay right behind it, and I was right behind the slug, though out of the camera’s frame.

Eventually I passed the slug — you’ll just have to take my word for it — and pulled even with the snail. I had opened up a pretty good lead when, realizing one of my sneakers had come untied, I bent over to re-tie it.

Before I was able to get upright, I was swallowed whole by a giant anaconda. I thought escape would be impossible, as if I was in Al Capone’s vault. But, a few minutes later, I managed to reach up and tickle his throat until he coughed me up.

By the time I was able to get back on my feet — not without a few groans — both the snail and the slug were way in front of me, leaving trails of slime behind them that made getting my footing difficult.

I reached deep down inside, near where my kidney used to be, and summoned up the strength for a final burst. Sadly, as I caught up with them, the camera still didn’t have me in the frame.

Now I could have played with the video, and used CGI, so you’d see all three of us in the race, but how honest would that be?

Documentaries should be honest, after all — a straight recounting of the facts with no misrepresentations, deceptions, schmaltzy staged reenactments or trick photography.

I am nothing if not honest, and far be it from me to manufacture drama where none really exists, or to drag out any suspense.

Suffice to say the results of that historic race — John vs. slug vs. snail — left many with their jaws dropped, their hearts pounding and the realization that they had seen something truly special. Some say it will become a legend for the ages. The winner was …

Fade to commercial.

To purchase the CD of John’s race with the snail and the slug, moderated by Morgan Freeman, send $89.99 to Phake Newz Documentaries, 8999 N. 8999th St., NY, NY. Do so in the next hour and you’ll also receive the envelope it comes in.

Oh yeah, you’re wondering who won. The truth — trust me — is that I pulled out a come-from-behind victory that left the thousands, no make that tens of thousands, of spectators all on the edge of their seats, cheering wildly, including a recently paroled O.J. Simpson, a contingent of leprechauns and more than 100 members of my mermaid fan club.

(Photo representation at top from The Washington Post; video from YouTube, posted by M77174)

The dog that ate Osama Bin Laden

Details are few, and there’s been no government confirmation, but that’s not stopping most major media outlets from reporting that a dog was a member of the assault team that killed Osama Bin Laden Sunday — and even prematurely pronouncing the dog a hero.

“Hero Dog Helped Snare Bin Laden,” read the headline of a story in yesterday’s Sun that called the dog “a fearless four legged hero.”

The Sun, in a report the New York Times seemed to confirm,  said an explosive-sniffing dog was strapped to one of the 79 assault team members lowered down ropes from three Black Hawk helicopters into Bin Laden’s hideout in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“Little is known about what may be the nation’s most courageous dog,” said the New York Times article. “Even its breed is the subject of intense interest, although it was likely a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, according to military sources.”

The rest of the Times story recounts the military’s increasing use of, and growing dependence on, dogs — primarily because of their skill in finding improvised explosive devices. But it sheds no light on the alleged dog’s involvement in the raid.

Slate, meanwhile, in a similarly speculative article, reports that a dog was along on the raid, then notes there has been no confirmation that a dog was involved in the raid:

“The special operations forces do have their own canine training program, but it’s very hush-hush. Furthermore, neither the Pentagon nor the White House is talking about the role the dog played in Sunday’s operation, and they haven’t even confirmed that a dog was involved at all.”

The news media loves a good hero dog story — and I do too, when it’s true — but before we start calling this anonymous military dog a hero we might want to have some facts, like what the dog did, and whether he (or she) was even there.

Pit bulls: Trials and tribulations

We can’t remember a week — at least not since 2007, when federal authorities raided 1915 Moonlight Road — that pit bulls have grabbed so many headlines … without even biting anyone.

Here in Baltimore, the week began with a pit bull parade, sponsored by B-More Dog and designed to improve the image and shatter the misconceptions about the breed — such as the one that they are innately inclined to inflict violence.

Those who ran into the pack of four-legged goodwill ambassadors at the Inner Harbor Sunday got a chance to see beyond the myths.

The very next day, a mistrial was declared in the case against twin brothers in Baltimore accused of setting a pit bull on fire in the summer of 2009. Phoenix, as the dog was dubbed, died five days later. The police investigation that followed, testimony at the trial indicated, was something less than thorough — likely, I think it’s safe to say, because the murder victim was a dog, and, in particular, a pit bull.

Jurors were unable to reach a decision, and a new trial is a possibility, but as of now, it appears the fatal burning of Phoenix will go unpunished. Despite that, she leaves a legacy.

“We waited almost two years for justice for Phoenix and though justice was not met for her, she became the change agent and public figure for animal abuse,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS). “Thousands of people offered their support on her behalf. Because of her, a Mayor’s Commission on Animal Abuse has been formed and the seriousness of animal abuse has been elevated to a national level.”

No dog, I will go out on a limb and educatedly guess, is more often the victim of abuse and neglect than the pit bull type — just as they are the most often maligned. Society, rather than simply label them as aggressive, and ban and muzzle them,  needs to come to terms with the fact that, in those instances when they are violent, our fellow humans are responsible for it, training them to fight, attempting to breed for viciousness, and trying to turn their natural born tenacity into something mean and macho.

Which brings us, once again, to Bad Newz Kennels.

Down in Dallas, the adoptive parent of one of Michael Vick’s dogs confronted the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and offered him an opportunity to meet Mel, a shy and fearful pit bull who was apparently used as a bait dog at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

The convicted dogfighting ring operator — in Dallas to receive the key to the city — declined, and his entourage shoved Mel’s new owner, local radio personality Richard Hunter, who captured the whole episode on his shaky camera, out of the way.

A few days after that, reports surfaced that Vick’s former estate on Moonlight Road, the Surry, Virginia, headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, which has sat empty for three years, may be getting a new owner — Dog Deserves Better, a Pennsylvania-based dog rescue and advocacy group.

They hope to turn the former Vick mansion — where 51 dogs were seized by authorities and eight more were found dead and buried on the grounds — into a training and rehabilitation center for rescued dogs.

As usual, bringing up Michael Vick brings on lots of comments, on this blog and others, from his supporters — those who say “give it a rest,” those who say “he served his time,” those who say he’s a different person now who should be permitted to move beyond his besmirched reputation.

Be that as it may, I’m wondering when pit bulls — given they are regularly accused and punished without any trials, given that any violence they display has been instilled into them by humans, given that their bad reputation is mostly undeserved — will be afforded that same opportunity.

As a breed, they’ve done their time.

(Photo by Tim Quinn)

A parade of pit bulls, prompted by pride

If you happen to be strolling around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Sunday and run into a pack of pit bulls, fear not — they are there to make friends, influence people, and lick away any misconceptions you may have about the breed.

B-More Dog, the organization behind “Pit Bulls on Parade,” plans to make group walks like Sunday’s a monthly event, held in various parts of the city — all aimed at erasing the stereotypes surrounding the breed.

While all breeds are welcome, dogs must be signed up in advance to take part in the parades. So while it’s too late to get your dog into Sunday’s, you can find out about participating in next month’s by emailing bmoredog@gmail.com.

To check out Sunday’s parade, show up around the Inner Harbor at 11 a.m.

Pauline Houliaras, a founding member and current president of B-More Dog, came up with the idea for the parade after noticing how often she’d be stopped and asked about the dogs she was walking. Her own dog, Ravenopolis, she found, often got greeted on walks around the harbor by tourists and locals alike, who’d stop to ask questions and pet the dog.

Taking the concept to the next level, B-More Dog organized groups of pit bull owners to walk together and spread goodwill about the breed. Then they decided, rather than just do it once a year, to try and parade pit bulls every month.

B-More Dog is an outreach and education organization that formed in the fall of 2007 to speak out against breed specific legislation being proposed in Baltimore County. That legislation, which would have required all pit bull owners to muzzle their dogs and confine them in locked kennels, was not passed.

Since then, B-More Dog has gone on to focus on improving the breed’s image and promoting responsible ownership of pit bulls and all other breeds through education, mentoring, and outreach.

Its members work with local shelters to provide information packets about the breed to adopters. B-More Dog also offers a “Humane Education” program in which members take their friendly, trained and well-mannered pit bull to community centers and after-school programs.

Novelist overcomes her pit bull prejudice

zzz-treonNovelist Susan Wilson loved all dogs — well, almost all dogs.

As she describes it, ” There was only one type of dog that I never approached, and when the subject came up on town meeting floor, I added my voice to the vote requiring their owners to restrict them behind tall fences.  

“That fear wasn’t based on any actual experience, but on the stories of attacks on children and owners and I, like many, accepted the conventional wisdom that pit bulls were bred mean and are unpredictable.”

But while researching her novel, “One Good Dog,” Wilson had an awakening — one she describes in a recent piece in the Huffington Post.

onegooddogI haven’t read the novel, but apparently its protagonist is a pit bull named Chance — who apparently might not have been so positively portrayed  if it weren’t for Jane Rotrosen Berkey, a literary agent who is also founder and president of Animal Farm Foundation, a pit bull rescue in New York.

Wilson, who is associated with the Jane Rotrosen Agency, ended up getting a lesson in pit bulls — and learning the whole “innately evil” thing is a myth.

“Lucky for me, she was more than happy to talk with me and help me overcome a number of misconceptions. Enlisting the help of an animal behaviorist, Bernice Clifford,  also of Animal Farm Foundation, I was saved from perpetuating myths and promoting misinformation about the pit bull, even a fictional one.”

As Wilson explains it, she needed a tough but unwanted type for her protagonist dog.

“I needed a dog that was unlikely to be adopted. I needed a tough guy who essentially mirrored my human protagonist in attitude. Not knowing at the outset where the story might go, I also needed a dog that I might be able to sacrifice without guilt. Instead, I got Chance, the philosophical pit bull. And I got a lesson in pit bulls from one of the dog’s strongest advocates.

“What I learned from Jane and Bernice is that people train these dogs to fight and they are good at it because they are doing what their masters want them to do. Once called the nanny dog because they were so good with children, these dogs have become more associated in the public mind with gangs and violence than with family life. That connection has taken the pit bull from “Our Gang” to gangsta.”

(Photo by John Woestendiek / ohmidog! — one of more than 150 to be featured at the upcoming exhibit, “Hey That’s My Dog!”)