Monday, December 31, 2007

For The Love Of Animals, Avoid The Circus

For the love of animals, avoid the circus
Special to The Palm Beach Post

Sunday, December 23, 2007

By Duncan Strauss

On Wednesday, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus lumbers into the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center in Palm Beach County for 12 performances. To those considering stepping into the big top to attend one of these shows, I offer this polite request:

Please don't.

Who am I - some animal-hating killjoy out to spoil your fun? Far from it. I'm a father, a pretty passionate animal lover and, not coincidentally, I host a radio program about animals that airs on Tampa National Public Radio affiliate WMNF.

I do not claim to be a renowned animal expert. But over the years, I've done a great deal of research into an array of animal matters. In hosting the show, I've had the good fortune to interview a number of renowned animal experts, experiences that have yielded one indisputable conclusion:

Animals in circuses endure a relentlessly awful life, marked by constant travel in cramped quarters, where access to food and water and proper veterinary care can't always be counted on, but punishment, pain, cruelty and, sometimes, premature death can be.

Hyperbole? Hardly. Any unit of Ringling Bros. is on the road for six to 11 months at a time, typically traveling in small train cars or trucks that are often poorly ventilated and/or lack basic creature comforts.

But the travails of transportation practically seem glorious alongside the covert and overt cruelty of the training that prepares - if that's the right word - these animals to perform in "the greatest show on Earth." Allow me to pose two related rhetorical questions:

Do you think that tigers - who, like most animals, are deathly afraid of fire - would be naturally inclined to jump through a ring of fire?

Do you think that elephants would be naturally inclined to balance on a colorful perch, stand on their hind legs or heads, or dance?

The answer, of course, is a resounding "No." So, to achieve the sort of unnatural and physically challenging behaviors described above and others, the training is fear-driven, revolving around punishing and hurting the animals: whipping them, beating them with rods, etc.

Elephants often are restrained, then beaten until they understand not to fight back. The chief tool of the elephant training trade is the bull hook, or ankus, which is heavy and clublike and has a pointy, sharp tip. Imagine a heavy and sharp fireplace poker. The trainers hit the elephants with the bull hook in various parts of their body, so that they comply - "learn."

Sounds too horrendous to believe, doesn't it? But there is plenty of testimony by former Ringling employees that says as much, and lots of video that shows as much - some of it as new as this year. To see an extensive array of germane video footage in less than eight minutes, you could hardly do better than watching the award-winning piece on Ringling and its abuse of Asian elephants by television journalist Leslie Griffith, who has won nine local Emmys and two Edward R. Murrow Awards, It's at

Keen observers of Ms. Griffith's work will notice that it's from 2004, and might reasonably wonder whether Ringling has improved its treatment of animals. Nope. In October 2006, Robert Tom, a former animal keeper who worked for Ringling for nearly two years (his wife, Margaret, also was employed by the circus) issued a notarized declaration - six pages of hair-raising accounts of animal neglect, abuse and cruelty in and around the big top.

Mr. Tom's experiences echo those of Archele Faye Hundley, a young mother of five, who worked as part of the animal crew. Her lengthy September 2006 notarized declaration, notes: "I quit the circus because the animal abuse was too upsetting. The abuse was not once in awhile, it occurred every day."

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, along with three other not-for-profit animal welfare organizations - The Fund For Animals, Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Protection Institute - are in the midst of litigation, under the Federal Endangered Species Act, against Ringling. The allegations detail the routine abuse and neglect of Asian elephants. The groups are joined in the lawsuit by a former Ringling employee, Tom Rider, who worked as a barn man for the elephants for 21/2 years, and is featured in the Griffith piece.

I digress here briefly for a prediction: Ringling owner Kenneth Feld surely will dispatch someone to respond to this piece - could be an official employee or maybe someone in the guise of a Ringling fan writing a letter to the editor - to dismiss these contentions as the ravings of a misinformed loon.

There will be rosy scenarios offered about their training, about their "conservation efforts" (their Center for Elephant Conservation is little more than a facility to restock the touring units with fresh pachyderms), about how great their animals are treated, etc. There are millions of dollars at stake, and elephants are the prime drawing cards, so when someone is critical of the operation, Mr. Feld and his fellow Ringling panjandrums typically mobilize quickly. And they'll say anything.

Nonetheless, let's just say, for the sake of ludicrous argument, that nothing untoward is visited on elephants in the course of their big top training. They're still forced to travel in those train cars or trucks to perform up to three shows a day and to spend most of their non-performance time anchored by leg chains.

Let me hasten to add that I'm not at all universally opposed to circuses, just those that use animals. There are numerous animal-free circuses - perhaps the most famous is Cirque du Soleil, but the last list I saw featured more than 20 such outfits.

If your family has a hankering to see a circus, go to one of those. But attending a Ringling performance is tantamount to endorsing animal abuse.

Monday, December 10, 2007

This Ziggy Doesn't Play Guitar--But I Bet He Could

One of the many things I like about living where we do--a vaguely rural area with lots of space and a decidedly equestrian bent--is that we share our digs with all sorts of fabulous creatures.

These range from lizards and frogs (one of which I, uh, profiled, in a previous post) to rabbits, opossums, squirrels to all kinds of wildlife in and around our pond, including turtles and fish inside, and assorted fowl outside.

Perhaps my favorite critter around these parts, though, is Ziggy, the fabulous white horse who lives next door. For one thing, as the accompanying picture suggests, he's gorgeous.

But it's more than that. He's a mellow and kind beast, with one of those especially magnetic personalities that only certain animals have. He's the kind of horse you're always happy to see, when you approach the house--or even when you're heading out.

I always stop, roll down the window and call, "Hi Ziggy." I recognize that it means a lot more to me than it does to him, but even if he's in the midst of chowing down, he always looks up and nods to acknowledge the greetings. That's just the kind of horse he is.

Several months ago, Ziggy's human companions placed their house on the market, which was sad news in all kinds of ways--not surprisingly, perhaps, these folks are as nice as Ziggy is, and we'll be very sorry to see them go.

Meanwhile, Ziggy has been spending large hunks of time at their ranch in another part of the state. He's had some problems of late with his feet, and the ground at the ranch is easier on his feet, plus he has a horse friend up there. Hard to begrudge him greater comfort & equine companionship.

But we miss him. This summer, Ziggy was gone for one of the first of his long stretches, and I was in the car with my 4-year-old, Mike, when we drove by his main stomping grounds, and we began wondering aloud where Ziggy was.

"Maybe," Mike suggested, "he's on vacation?"

Out of the mouth of babes, and all. Turns out, Mike's guess was pretty darn accurate. Ziggy came back a few weeks ago, and we all were bonkers with excitement. It was so great to see him, so comforting and wonderful to hear him snorting and whinnying at night.

I went over darn every day to talk with him. Again, the conversations meant a lot more to me than to him; for all I know, he just considered me an odd and lonely man. But, I guess, as someone who loves animals, it's a powerfully pleasurable feeling simply to be in the presence of an animal like that. I relish those visits.

He went back to the ranch recently. Of course, I'm glad he's happier and more comfortable up there, but every time I drive back to our house, I steal a glance next door, hoping Ziggy might have returned. I can hardly wait for our next chat.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ingrid Newkirk & Other Wright-Thinking People On Behalf Of Turkeys

By no small coincidence, I suppose, HBO's documentary "I Am An Animal: The Story Of Ingrid Newkirk And PETA" premiered Monday evening--just a few nights before Thanksgiving.

The film seeks to provide a profile of Ingrid Newkirk and the organization she co-founded some 27 years ago, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), showing her at her very spartan apartment and at work at the PETA offices as well as at the helm of PETA campaigns and investigations--including an undercover investigation of ConAgra turkey processing plant.

We see that this investigation is initially botched in the hands of too-green PETA operative before he's replaced by a grizzled vet who emerges with video footage of horrifying abuses of the turkeys in that plant. I'd like to think at least a small percentage of viewers opted to skip the turkey at this year's Thanksgiving meal.

Before moving on to a couple of other quick turkey/Thanksgiving-related observations, I like to note, for what little it's worth, that the documentary was not without its virtues, but presented a one-dimensional if not downright inaccurate portrait of Ingrid Newkirk. Do I agree with everything she says, or has done?

Certainly not. My theory (and an underlying premise of "Talking Animals") is that everyone--both inside and outside the animal welfare world--has their own philosophical threshold of ideas, arguments and tactics they deem appropriate for the cause they're seeking to serve. For me, for example, the PETA campaign comparing pigs and chickens squished together in a factory farming setting with Jews in the Holocaust--well, do I need to go on? Yet, even now, the film makes clear, Newkirk thinks that was a good campaign, and stands by it.

But I also think she's done enormous good for all sorts of animals for the better part of three decades. And I was surprised by the Ingrid Newkirk that was rendered in "I Am An Animal": Profoundly sad, disconnected, unpleasant, almost lifeless.

She might well be those things at times, but the Ingrid Newkirk I've seen in countless interviews and other settings--and I interviewed her myself on "Talking Animals" three years ago--and she more commonly comes across as a bright, peppy, witty, spirited, engaging figure. I didn't see that Ingrid in this documentary, which isn't to suggest the film was without merit. There just seemed to be curious choices made in the editing bay, and maybe elsewhere, along the way.

On a somewhat related note, Don Wright--The Palm Beach Post's phenomenal, Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist--offered the day before Thanksgiving a wordless but typically powerful cartoon: in a field there's a big human hunter carrying a gun, with a thought bubble above his ahead with the image of a turkey in a roasting pan; on the other side of a large tree, we see a turkey with a thought bubble above his ahead--with the image of the hunter in a roasting pan.

I'm with the turkey.

But for years now, I've sided with the turkey--and once again, yesterday, I had a fantastic turkey-free Thanksgiving meal. With any luck--whether or not they saw "I Am An Animal"--more folk did the same yesterday. And even more might consider that sort of Thanksgiving meal next year.

Friday, November 9, 2007

This Sloth Is Ten-Toed...

There's been no legitimate contest--no competiton, online or otherwise (that I know of)--but unofficially, at least, I think it's safe to declare myself the World's Laziest Blogger.

Hardly a reason to brag, I realize.

I mean, most folks who go to the trouble to get themselves a blog actually use it, regularly tapping out their musings on a host of topics, creating posts that can range from the riveting and provocative to the indulgent and deadly dull. But wherever these bloggers land on this continuum, at least they're writing.

Me, not so much. Oh, sure, there's a litany of explanations/excuses I could offer for what has kept me from adding my two cents to the blogosphere in the last several weeks, but that'd likely end up a pathetic exercise in offering something perhaps even less compelling than my regular posts. No small task.

And why I haven't been blogging isn't really all that significant. What's important (well, to me) is that I get back on the blogging horse, in a manner of speaking.

So, getting a huge jump on my New Year's resolutions, I'm pledging to do much more blogging for the balance of '07, and into 2008. Mostly, as I outlined in the missive that launched this blog, posts will generally be connected to my radio show, "Talking Animals" or otherwise tied to the world of animals and animal welfare.

With that, let the blogging begin. Or resume.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Chrissie Hynde: A Rockin' Animal Advocate

For better or worse, I'm old enough to be a fan of Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders pretty much from the get-go.

Not just that glorious debut album--remember how damn near every song was fantastic, as the band roamed confidently all over the musical countryside from fiery rawker to tender ballad to Kinks cover to reggae number and back again?

It was more than that, though. It was also their first shows Stateside...which, for me, meant a 1980 concert at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, where The Pretenders opened for The Boomtown Rats.

And, as my buddy Randy Fender & I were recalling the other day, The Pretenders smoked. They were a terrific, muscular band, while Chrissie Hynde was an extraordinary singer and an absolutely riveting presence onstage. Over the years, the personnel changed, but that assessment never did.

It was a good handful of years later that I became aware of Chrissie's work on behalf of animals. But for quite some time, it's been pretty difficult to be unaware of that work, especially for anyone plugged into the world of animal welfare.

Of course, you didn't have to be all that plugged in to notice some of her work, which in no small measure because it's done by Chrissie Hynde--has often been rather high-profile and colorful.

For instance, she was arrested in Paris while protesting KFC and their inhumane treatment of chicken in the processing plant, arrested another time in New York protesting the use of leather by The Gap in some of its clothing.

And then there was that time nearly 20 years ago, when she famously said "I firebombed McDonald's," and the next day a McDonald's in Buckinghamshire was firebombed. But some of her work on behalf of animals isn't at all marked by that sort of dramatic flair--for instance, in April she wrote a sharp, powerful piece in the Toronto Globe & Mail about Canada's annual seal hunt.

So as a longtime fan of her music and the animal work, it was probably no surprise that I sought to have Chrissie Hynde join me on "Talking Animals." And probably no less surprising that this was quite difficult to pull off.

During a period spanning more than three years, The Pretenders' manager and I became e-mail pen pals, with her generally--and quite courteously--explaining why Chrissie was not available or not doing interviews. But, crucially, she never told me to quit sending the e-mails, never said something akin to "we'll contact you when Chrissie can do the interview"--typically, in this scenario, the polite kiss of death.

Then, in July--in response to my latest invitation, noting the forthcoming opening of VegeTerranean, Chrissie's vegetarian restaurant in her native Akron, Ohio--she e-mailed back, starting the note with "Good things really do come to those who wait," explaining that Chrissie had agreed to do the interview.

I was thrilled, a degree of enthusiasm that was unwavering, even when the interview itself started out on somewhat curious footing: Chrissie sounded wary, maybe even a touch hostile initially. Turned out, a complicated day and the machinations of being in the midst of a Pretenders tour had prevented her from seeing notes that described the focus of "Talking Animals."

But the conversation was no less solid and vibrant for that (heck, probably more so), and toward the end, she was recognizing that "Talking Animals" was a show about animals and animal issues. I answered a few of her questions about the show, including mentioning some past guests--this was all on air, mind you--and then, landing about 180 degrees from where she started at the beginning of the conversation, she said brightly, "I'll do your show anytime."

Those were her final words in the interview. But, based on a few things--including an immensely kind voicemail she later left on my cell phone--probably not her final words on "Talking Animals."

And, to me, that was rockin' good news.

Monday, July 30, 2007

This Alison's Aim Is True, Too: Striving To Reduce Animal Abuse By Providing Significant Info About it

There are countless heroes and heroines in the animal welfare world, but arguably few are doing more heavy lifting--emotionally speakng-than those dealing daily with animal abuse.

People like Alison Gianotto.

The guest on the July 11 edition of "Talking Animals," Alison Gianotto is a nationally-recognized expert on animal abuse and cruelty who also happens to be a computer whiz (and, yes, I realize everyone seems to be a computer whiz these days, but not everyone has written books on computer programming, as Alison has--alright, Bub?).

About six years ago, combing both areas of expertise, she created, a sprawling web site and online resource that seeks to reduce animal abuse through providing information and education. Moreover, the database--currently featuring more than 11,000 cases--has become a major tool relied on by law enforcement, prosecutors and others across the country. provides details, updated daily, about neglect/abuse/cruelty court cases taking place across this country (and sometimes other countries), and a slew of other info, services and resources.

I urge you to visit

And I urge you to hear Alison Gianotto speak--not necessarily on "Talking Animals" (although our conversation is archived and available as an iTunes podcast via the show website,, but perhaps at one of the many talks she delivers at conferences, college campuses and other events throughout the nation.

She's whip-smart, wildly articulate, and while the topic can be dark and depressing, she's not.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Jeremiah Was A Tree Frog?

There are many, many things that I love about our house in Jupiter Farms--even allowing for the fact that it's a three hour drive to WMNF, the radio station in Tampa where I hold forth on "Talking Animals"--and chief among those things is the tremendous amount of wildlife we share our digs with.

In subsequent posts, I'll surely address the sweeping array of fauna that live here, or periodically hang here. There's probably at least a post or two in just rhapsodizing about all the wonderful creatures that reside in--or visit--our pond.

But today I just want to mention our little tree frog friend, who perches near our front door, very close to the lights, which when illuminated in the darkness of night, attract all sorts of flying insects--sort of an All You Can Eat Buffet for our sticky-fingered (and tongued) friend.

He seems to have a good, comfortable life, and while awaiting nightfall, he can be an amusing feller. A picture may or may not be worth a thousand words, but perhaps this shot suggests a pretty relaxed character?

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Prized Show--& Ultra Surprised Host

So, not quite two Saturdays ago, WMNF held its annual Volunteer Banquet, a gathering of about 250 folks, including the small number of station staffers and the huge number of volunteers--some of whom one can hear on air, most of whom work tirelessly behind the scenes at the station, at the concerts and other events presented by WMNF, and in assorted other capacities.

Having only been on the air at WMNF for a year and a half, this was my first such banquet, and I was struck by the warm, friendly atmosphere as people socialized, enjoyed a meal, then settled in for the presentation of the awards. That is, I was struck by this while remaining focused on the non-stop activities of my three-and-half-year-old son, Mike, who--along with my wife, Colleen--accompanied me to the banquet. (He's pictured at the banquet, mid-shenanigans, in a picture above, taken by WMNF's Dawn Morgan.)

I had been encouraged to bring Mike by a handful of longtime WMNFers, who noted the event was informal and that other young kids would also likely be there. Still, it didn't work out that great--partly 'cause we'd attended not long after making the three-hour drive to Tampa from our home in Jupiter Farms, partly 'cause it was "just one of those days," and partly because (did I mention?) Mike is three and half years old.

On the huge plus side, to my utter shock and amazement, I won an award--named the station's News & Public Affairs Programmer Of The Year. The Mike Factor and winning this award made for an unusual juxtaposition, if not collision.

At this point, in fact, this situation may be best addressed by providing a copy of the e-mail I sent the next day to WMNF's Assistant News & Public Affairs Director Mitch Perry, who presented me the award. The "Rob" I allude to is News & Public Affairs Director Rob Lorei, who gave me the opportunity to broadcast "Talking Animals" on WMNF when I was looking for a new home for the show after my family and I relocated from California to Florida. Here's the e-mail:
Hi Mitch,

Thanks so much for the award. As may have been all too apparent, I was stunned in every sense of the word. For starters, in the wake of urging from Carrie & polling other MNFers--mostly with kids--I brought my 3 and-a-half-year-old lunatic, Mike, to the banquet, which through nobody's fault (but mine) turned out to be a bad call. So my wife & I (& our tablemates) braved his hijinks til around 5, at which point my wife took him out for good (not in the assassination sense, though that was tempting), and I walked out with them.

I was kinda frazzled from the Mike misadventures & attendant distractions, so as I re-entered Maestro's, I looked forward to grabbing a beer, chilling out and watching the awards ceremony unfold. As I step to the bar, I half hear you mention Nellie McKay & Bob Barker, then like some cartoon, I whip my head around & hear you say something about Emmylou Harris.

Like some sort of drug experience (well, what I've heard about those), my sense of time & space became all distorted. I don't know what the heck's happening, but I head to my seat--at which point I think I hear you announce my name. I'm still not sure what's happening--in addition to being out of sorts from young Mike Strauss, this is my first MNF banquet, & the first award of the day--so I lean over & ask Miss Julie, who's temporarily roosted at my table, if I'm supposed to go up there, or what?

So this is the backdrop for what I was like when I got to the podium--shocked at winning the award, somewhat disoriented overall & more than a little uncertain what to say or do next; I was like an awards ceremony double-buffoon: In the bathroom (or at least away from the awards room) when about to receive an award, AND the dipshit who forgets to thank people--in my case, that certainly should've included Rob, among others.

What's done is done--I mean, I don't think I said anything abysmal, or urinated all over myself or anything. I just wish I'd been in the room, a little more calm & collected, and had heard what you said. My wife (who regrets having left the room mere minutes before, to whisk our loon away) wondered if you might have a copy of any written remarks you might have made before announcing my award, or if anyone was recording the ceremony? If not, no prob.

And, lemme extend my huge & heartfelt thanks to you & other members of the MNF juggernaut--even if those thanks were woefully MIA yesterday.

So, obviously, I was ultra surprised.

I was also thrilled, flattered and honored.

And, heck, maybe in all his nuttiness, Mike was a good luck charm.

Monday, June 18, 2007

More Reasons To Be Enamored Of Emmylou

Emmylou Harris was the most recent guest on "Talking Animals," and I remain so excited about the conversation with her, I still have a spring in my step.

Of course, given the caliber of guests we're fortunate enough to have visit with us on the show, I'm pretty darn excited during (and after) speaking with all of 'em. It's just that Emmylou is the first guest since we launched the "Talking Animals" Blog, so this is the first opportunity I've had to blog about a guest.

But, really, it's more than that. Over a career spanning more than three decades--during which she's collected 12 Grammys and demonstrated a real affinity for collaboration, for example, recently recording an album with Mark Knopfler, "All The Roadrunning" and singing with Conor Oberst on three songs of Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning"--she's established herself as a singular artist with a generous spirit.

So given that she's long projected a kind and generous attitude, perhaps it should be far from surprising that she's a lifelong animal advocate, from growing up in a house full of animals and animal lovers (her Dad was studying to be a veterinarian until World War II and other factors derailed him from that track) to now, at 60(!), when her own Nashville house is full of animals--and that she operates a small foster care shelter for dogs, Bonaparte's Retreat, at that house.

Or that the dogs she brings into Bonaparte's Retreat are ones who, for one reason or another, are otherwise prime candidates to be euthanized.

Or that she's lobbied for an anti-tethering (i.e., chaining a dog) ordinance.

Or that she's just as likely to talk about the importance of animal adoption and spay/neuter as about her latest music project.

Or that she's taped animal-oriented public service announcements.

Or that she's organized &/or performed benefit concerts for various animal welfare organizations.

Or in discussing some of these things in our conversation on "Talking Animals," that she spoke eloquently with deep expertise and authority--this ain't a celebrity diletante. She truly understands the issues, and has not only been in the trenches of working with local and national organizations on adoption (and other matters), but took it a step further by rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands by converting her back yard into a foster care shelter, saving countless dogs over the years from being put to death.

All this, with her gentle manner and humanity underscored by a speaking voice that's nearly as sweet, inviting and distinctive as her singing voice. Indeed, after the show, a friend e-mailed, saying, in part, "her voice and delivery are so soothing to my ears...She seems like a real gem of a human being."

Exactly. Which is why it was a huge treat--and enormously exciting--to have this conversation with Emmylou.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Yeah, But How Do I Listen To Those Nellie Shows?

In the wake of my post about Nellie McKay, a number of people have wondered how they might hear the two editions of "Talking Animals" that featured interviews with Nellie.

OK, that's a thick slice of baloney--no one's inquired, and the only folks asking are the voices in my head. But I have a nice relationship with those voices, and always try to answer their questions.

And it's pretty simple to do so here: Nellie first chatted with us on the program that aired April 5, 2004 and returned for more conversation in the show that aired November 9, 2005 (our debut on WMNF, for those scoring at home). Moreover, every show we've ever broadcast--next week, "Talking Animals" celebrates its four year anniversary overall, for those still scoring at home --is archived on the program website:

Plus, an increasing number of our shows--including the more recent Nellie one--are now available as podcasts on iTunes and other podcatchers.

Yet another reason to visit the program website is that it provides links that whisk you to the "Talking Animals" podcast, and makes it super-easy to subscribe to the monthly podcast. With any luck, this answers, for the moment, all questions posed by the voices in my head.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Nod To Nellie...

I'm a huge fan of Nellie McKay for all kinds of reasons--almost none having to do with her being a guest twice on "Talking Animals" (or saying incredibly kind things to me about the program; more on that later, perhaps)--and she somehow keeps providing more reasons to deepen my admiration for her.

Like her review of a new book on Doris Day, which ran in Sunday's edition of The New York Times--at least the second substantial book review Nellie has written for "the paper of record."

Let's back up a bit.

My first exposure to Nellie McKay was catching her on "Letterman" singing "The Dog Song"(early 2004?), and it was hard not to feel instantly enchanted. This was some days before she'd released her double-disc debut, "Get Away From Me," a winsome, wildly-impressive collection that went on to be named one of the 15 best albums of 2004 in the Village Voice poll of 800 critics nationwide.

Not bad.

Presented initially as the work of a 19-year-old before some suggestions surfaced that Nellie or someone in her camp had shaved a few years off her actual age--then and now, I ask: who cares?--it turned out she wasn't merely a musical wunderkind, but was also something of a precocious animal activist, including writing protest songs like "Columbia Is Bleeding," about the animal experimentation at Columbia University.

Not long after the release of "Get Away From Me," Nellie joined me on "Talking Animals" and proved to be a terrific guest--in our conversation as well as fielding listener questions--and things went at least that well a year and a half later, when she rejoined me on the show.

That second visit was on the eve of releasing her second album, "Pretty Little Head"--or so it seemed; in the wake of a dispute with her record company that led to her severing ties with that company, the album release was delayed about a year--and as she was preparing to make her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in "Threepenny Opera," alongside Alan Cumming & Edie Falco.

Again, not bad.

This is obviously a very bright, immensely gifted woman--and then last March, as if she needed to do anything to underline that impression, Nellie published a book review (of Karen Schoemer's "Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With '50s Pop Music") in The New York Times. It was a wonderful piece--probing, smart, incisive, and certainly didn't pull any punches.

She did it again Sunday, weighing in on "Considering Doris Day," a new examination of the life & career of the singer, actress and animal advocate--a major influence on Nellie--authored by Tom Santopietro.

The review is notable for both its sweep and depth--to those of us pretty familiar with Nellie and her work, it's a given that she's steeped in all things Day, but Nellie writes here with a knowledge and authority, an acute understanding and fierce intelligence that's downright preternatural for someone who, no matter how you slice it, is still in her 20s.

To note out that she's wise--or gifted--beyond her years is, at this point, woefully obvious, akin to suggesting things aren't going well in Iraq.

And she can certainly teach an old dog new tricks: At one point in the review, she chides Santopietro for repeatedly referring to Doris Day as an "animal lover," a term she finds both a misnomer and condescending, at least when applied to someone like Day, who's responsible for so many seismic shifts in the animal welfare landscape.

When I read the review, I was in the middle of preparing an announcement for "Talking Animals" that referred to a forthcoming guest as an "animal lover."

I changed it.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Long-Time Reader, First-Time Blogger

Yes, it's true--I've joined the blogosphere. (And, yes, I know: For using the term "blogosphere" in the very first sentence of my very first post, my blogging privileges should probably be immediately suspended, at least temporarily.)

But the idea behind this "Talking Animals"-oriented blog is to address guests and topics on the radio show (currently airing on Tampa NPR station WMNF the second Wednesday of each month, at 11:30 am EST. Please visit our website: at, a variety of other animal issues, pending legislation, organizations, animal stories that have elicited significant media coverage--or should--and much more.

Some posts may be short, simple observations--like the profound bliss I feel when I step out of the house in the early morning and see wild bunnies munching on our lawn. Although the intent is for everything here to be somehow rooted in the world of animals and animal issues (much as the radio show is), who knows how far afield we may travel over time. I can safely say, though, that it'll likely be quite some time before I again use the word blogosphere...