Monday, November 2, 2009

Please Help The Animals At This So-Called Sanctuary--Watch This Video, Contact Authorities, Spread The Word

There's nothing light, whimsical or entertaining about this blog post. There's not even a photo.

Just please watch this video

It was shot at a facility that has the nerve to use "Sanctuary" in its name--10th Life Sanctuary. It's in Clewiston, sort of a remote part of South Florida.

And using "Sanctuary" in the name is the least of its transgressions. Beyond this video, I've seen photographs taken there that shook me deeply--neglect, filth, and death.

The way I understand it, the guy who operates the place doesn't allow visitors (little wonder!), and doesn't accept volunteers! I mean, if these things alone constitute a huge red flag.

Sure enough, this is an emergency situation. I know people who've been not only deeply concerned about this facility and its treatment of animals for several months, but have alerted various county and other authorities, and apparently the response has been, in effect, the conditions there don't seem serious enough, horrifying enough, to take official action.

Knowing & seeing what goes on at this joint, that alone seems kinda frightening--but maybe if we get far more people talking, and complaining, about this, we can force some action.

So share this video, spread the word, make calls, send e-mails, let's do everything we can to help the animals at this place...before more die.

My thanks to Jodi Chemes of Florida Voices For Animals, who provided the following contact info:

Hendry County Board of County Commissioners

P O Box 1760

La Belle, FL 33975-1760

Hendry County Commissioners:

- Janet Taylor, e-mail:

- Darrell Harris, e-mail:

- Tristan Chapman, e-mail:

- Kevin McCarthy, e-mail:

- Karson Turner, e-mail:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Triumph at D.O.G. (10/16/09)

Past "Talking Animals" Guest, Uh, Triumphs Again

A momentous occasion in the annals of "Talking Animals"--for starters, it was the first (and, so far, only) instance of a talking animal being a guest--was when we aired an interview with Triumph The Insult Comic Dog on the May 9, 2005 edition of the show.

It was a typically amusing, often hilarious exchange, even as it flirted with one or more FCC violations. Semi-interestingly, at that point, "Talking Animals" was based on the West Coast, Triumph on the East Coast; now, the reverse is true.

We've adored Triumph long before that visit, and, of course, ever since. Including this recent piece he did for "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whatever The Opposite Of Whoa Nellie Would Be--That's What This Headline Is

Nellie McKay was on "Talking Animals" the other day, marking her fourth visit to the show--the most of any guest.

It makes sense, really. She's the quintessential "Talking Animals" guest, given the show's unusual mix of music, comedy, journalism, animal advocacy and more:

*She's an enormously gifted and acclaimed singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist (she released her fourth album, "Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute To Doris Day" one day before this latest chat);

* She's funny. some years ago, she tried her hand at stand-up and her performances--and interviews--are often laced with sharply witty patter);

* Among her initially less obvious talents: At least one type of high-end journalism in the form of her 2007 New York Times Book Review critique of a Doris Day biography

* She's a fervently committed animal welfare advocate--and has been, as we learned in this recent interview, since her pre-adolescence--one of the essential traits she shares with Doris Day. In 2005, McKay was the recipient of the Humane Society's highly prestigious Doris Day Music Award.

The conversation touched on topics ranging from the rescue pitbulls, Hank and Bessie, that share her home--and the "Blueberry Pie" album cover--to re-explaining why, in that Times review of the Doris Day biography, she took the author to task for his repeated use of the phrase "animal lover."

Yet, we didn't come close to covering all the areas I'd hoped to--nor, it seemed, that she'd hoped to.

Stay tuned for another Nellie visit to "Talking Animals"...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Classic Equation: Dog + Ball= Happiness

Daisy is a Labrador Retriever puppy. She loves chasing--retrieving--balls. Enough said.

Monday, October 12, 2009

With Halloween--And Costume Contests--Fast Approaching...

Some of those who live at our house are gearing up for Halloween, and the attendant costume contests. I think the Ironman is pretty good, but whoever that is portraying a Golden Lab puppy is probably going to blow away the competition, no?

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Boy And His Dog

So when we were gearing up to adopt a dog, I knew that I needed to repair or replace a fallen fence in the back of our property before any new canine family member could roam free.

And then, just as we were finalizing plans to bring home our beloved new puppy, Daisy, the folks who bought the house next door--and, it turns out, are nationally-recognized horse people in the realm of dressage, and have been busily converting the place to a full-tilt training facility that would accommodate 8-10 horses--tore out the fence that bordered our home and theirs.

They put in a gleaming white equestrian fence there (and elsewhere, tracing the perimeter of their property). The new fence looks gorgeous, but unlike its predecessor, is not designed to keep animals smaller than horses in, or out.

Which meant that the scope--and cost--of my own fence project had suddenly tripled, maybe quadrupled. As my wife Colleen has reminded each time I've whined, or cursed, about my immense irritation about this matter, the neighbors were perfectly entitled to remove the old fence.

It was on their property, it was theirs to replace.

Which is absolutely accurate, even if that observation fails to note that the other fence was there for decades--at one location, the even had a gate connecting that property with our property, a souvenir of the close friendship enjoyed by the family we bought our home from and the people who recently sold the adjacent house.

Anyway, as of today, our fencing project is complete, and now Daisy can be released from her leash, and run free.

And chase balls--as a dog, especially a Retriever, is meant to do. Daisy is thrilled by this development, as is our son, Mike.

Which has yielded classic photo opps like above: A boy and his dog.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fund Drives Fund Stations--And Shows

Tomorrow--Thursday, Oct. 1--the WMNF Fall Fund Drive gets underway.

What does that mean?

Viewed by some as the necessary evil of public radio (or public television), fund drives are those weeklong periods during which much of a station's regular programming is suspended while on air hosts, DJs and sometimes others try to urge the audience to pledge its financial support via the telephone or the Internet.

And the coin of the realm in these transactions is the premium. In this case, premium is another term for "thank you gift for your donation" probably know how this works: For a pledge of $50, you get this...for a pledge of $300, you'll receive this" and so on.

To sort of purposely get ahead of myself, allow me to mention some of the premiums I'll be offering on my Fund Drive show (to support "Talking Animals," the Wednesday Sonic Detour, WMNF and me):

* A two-person, four-night package for whale watching at The San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California--this is regular ol' whale watching, but communing with the so-called "friendly whales": California grey whale moms and their babies that approach you while you're in small skiffs and allow you to touch and even pet them! We devoted the May 13 edition of "Talking Animals" to this, and there are details about the package on the program website.

* One week stay in condo on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, in Poipu Beach. More details here.

* Rare Tom Waits items, signed exclusively for us by Waits!

* And lots more, from amazing concert tickets to signed CDs & books and more (details here)--exclusive to the "Talking Animals"/Sonic Detour fund drive show we'll be hosting Wednesday Oct. 7, 4-6 pm ET.

There are also lots of non-exclusive premiums, from WMNF t-shirts to HD radios, to the newly remastered Beatles' "Abbey Road" CD, and more.

For most public radio stations, including WMNF, these Fund Drives account for upwards of 70-80% of the annual budget--so, clearly, they're immensely important to the ongoing health and well-being of the shows, and station, you love and listen to.

So, I hope you'll mark your calendar for Oct. 7, and in the period between 4pm and 6pm ET, either call in a pledge (the number: 813-238-8001), or you can make a secure pledge on the WMNF website.

And we totally understand that these days many people are tightening their belts, but no pledge is too small--$35 or $50 is great!--and at the same time, WMNF has experienced some budget shortfalls and fairly grim belt-tightening of its own, so if you can spare $100, $250 or even $500, that would help us enormously.

And would get you one or more of those fabulous premiums.

In the cliche business, we call that a win-win.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie...

Here's our new puppy, Daisy, after a long walk and a nice lunch...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cop--Or Should I Say Pig?--Eludes Prosecution On Sex With Cows Charges

There are so many things wrong with this story, it's difficult to know where to begin.

This is a mugshot of Robert Melia, a New Jersey (Moorestown, to be precise) police officer, who was accused of committing a sex act with young cows, according to a New York Daily News account.

The judge in this case, Judge Morely, dismissed the animal cruelty charges--Melia allegedly engaged in in oral sex acts with five calves in 2006.

Judge Moreley opined that it was questionable that Melia's activity with the calves--though "disgusting"--qualified as animal cruelty. The prosecutor vehemently disagreed, noting "I think any reasonable juror could infer that a man's penis in the mouth of a calf is torment."

Oh, geez.

And this story actually manages to find a way to get worse: Turns out Officer Melia and his girlfriend were arrested last year for sexually assaulting three young girls.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fresh As A Daisy

As of last night, we have a new member of the family: Daisy, a four-month-old golden Labrador retriever (or mix), who's low-key, sweet and--at the risk of stating the obvious--darn cute.

Technically, we adopted Daisy from Florida All Retriever Rescue (FARR), which describes itself as "a non-profit, all volunteer, rescue organization dedicated to saving the lives of unwanted and neglected dogs throughout Florida, with a special focus on retriever breeds."

But I brought Daisy to our home from the home of Lee Courtney and Lauren Beardsley, who were fostering Daisy for FARR. Lee is also known as "Flee," the Music Director at WMNF, the Tampa radio station where I do "Talking Animals" (and a weekly music show).

The Friday of Labor Day Weekend, Flee sent an e-mail to all WMNF programmers that Daisy--then called Ashley--would be available for adoption soon. And he included pictures

The other parts of the description--including good with cats--sounded right up our alley. The next time I was in Tampa, Flee was kind enough to accommodate a visit to his house, so I could meet this pooch.

She was dreamy.

Fast forward to the next Wednesday--that is, yesterday--and I was back at Flee and Lauren's house to pay the FARR adoption fee, get the lowdown on this nice girl, including instructions for her post-spay care, and receive a Daisy briefing before embarking on the three-plus hour drive.

Now, she's met my wife, Colleen, and our son Mike (not quite six)--who both adore Daisy--and she's met our three cats, who don't. Yet...

More of the Daisy Chronicles in the coming days.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pacelle Discusses Leadership, Legislation--And Vick

We were pleased to host Wayne Pacelle, the President and CEO of The Humane Society of The United States--the country's largest animal protection organization--on the Sept. 9 edition of "Talking Animals," at roughly the five-year mark of his being top dog of HSUS.

With upwards of 11 million members, the HSUS is a elephantine, sprawling entity, and therefore an interview with Pacelle about his organization runs the risk of being quite sprawling, too.

So I partly tried to frame the conversation around the notion of leadership.

Which means we touched on topics ranging from what he views as the three most important hallmarks of his tenure as CEO, to his decision to have HSUS team with Michael Vick for educational efforts on dogfighting--and how that decision (and reaction to it) speaks to the intricacies and challenges of leadership at that level--to the increasing premium he has placed on cultivating and passing legislation as a more profoundly effective way to alter the animal welfare landscape, and more.

It felt like a good, substantive, lively conversation, and the calls and e-mails I've received afterward underscore that impression--including one listener who called the studio mere seconds after we'd finished the broadcast, wondering where she could hear the Pacelle interview again.

Uh, right here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ric O' Barry Elaborates On His Tale Of Redemption--And Dolphins

In "The Cove," the award-winning, revolutionary documentary about--among other things--the annual dolphin slaughter that takes place in the cove of a small Japanese town called Taiji--Ric O' Barry looks deeply weary, but is also a riveting, heroic presence, emerging as the nominal star of film.

As soon as I saw "The Cove," I knew I wanted to interview O' Barry on "Talking Animals."

For one thing, I'm fascinated by people who undergo a wholesale transformation, and O' Barry's arc extended from dolphin trainer in the 1960s--most notably, training the five dolphins who portrayed the titular star of "Flipper"--to shortly after that experience, becoming, arguably, dolphins' chief protector/rescuer/advocate.

This has meant everything from trying to generate attention toward the tightly-guarded carnage that takes place at Taiji, to emerging as a staunch opponent of any form of dolphin captivity.

Interestingly, going through proper channels to seek the interview with O'Barry, I got jerked around in myriad, puzzling ways--I can only conclude, counter-intuitively, that the studio and others affiliated with "The Cove" do not want to encourage O'Barry-centered publicity.

Maybe their mandate is to place director Louie Psihoyos at the center of such efforts. At any rate, with a clock ticking ever more loudly before I knew O'Barry was flying back to Japan, I finally recognized that the folks ostensibly helping me coordinate the interview couldn't/weren't going to get it done, I started trying to track O'Barry down on my own.

I did so Friday Aug. 28, as he was racing around handling final preparations to depart first thing the next morning for Japan, and we recorded this interview, which aired on the Sept. 2 edition of "Talking Animals."

We touched on everything from his surprise that he ended up being the focus of "The Cove," to what triggered his transformation (Cathy, the main dolphin portraying "Flipper," was so despondent in captivity after the series concluded that she committed suicide in his arms), to his ensuing efforts on behalf of dolphins and attendant tale of redemption.

Which led to some intriguing comments on the prospect of Michael Vick experiencing his own tale of redemption.

Even with the audio challenges (in recording this interview, there were some ghosts in the machine), it was a powerful conversation, laced with O'Barry-derived insights and surprises.

And then we said goodbye, so he could resume preparations for his return to Japan. Clearly, as this L.A. Times piece made clear, when he arrived in Taiji, he hit the ground running.

Indeed, he's got dolphins to save.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pertinent Pachyderm Humor?

I guess you could suggest this cartoon is apropos of the portion of my recent conversation on "Talking Animals" with writer Charles Siebert in which we were discussing elephants--both captive and in the wild--that exhibit behavior akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, attacking other animals and trampling humans.

Or you might attempt to tie it to circus elephants, who endure a miserable existence, including oppressive travel conditions in cramped train cars, as well as often-vicious ankus beatings and other forms of horrific treatment...and have been known to attack their "trainers" and other circus personnel.

Me? I just thought the cartoon (appearing in the current, Aug. 31 issue of The New Yorker) was funny...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thrilling Symphony Of Anime Sights And Sounds: You Can Tune A "Ponyo" But Can You Tuna Fish?

I couldn't begin to claim profound expertise about the work of Hayao Mizazaki, but I can certainly suggest that the latest offering from Japan's anime wizard, "Ponyo," will constitute a profound bonanza for lovers of wildly inventive animation--and animal lovers.

Of all ages, in both cases.

And although at the screening I attended, the audience was about 70% kids, "Ponyo" should in no way be confused with warm, cuddly child-flick fare. Sure, the film is nominally about a young female fish, Ponyo, who wants to be a little girl and the little boy, Sosuke, who plucks her from the sea--and their (sometimes) cross-species, uh, friendship.

But "Ponyo" is a rich, flavorful bouillabaisse of images and ideas, where parental figures seem sometimes puzzling for their misanthropy (Ponyo's underwater-wizard dad, a Peter Max-ish figure voiced by Liam Neeson) or lapses in judgment (Sosuke's mom, depicted vocally by Tiny Fey drives like a bat out of hell on twisty roads with him in the car and leaves her son--and Ponyo--alone at home in the midst of a huge hurricane), and good/evil issues swirl around environmental questions of varying stripes.

And that ain't the half of it. The film seemed deeply compelling on each of its myriad levels. Most of the kids in the theater watched "Ponyo" in rapt silence.

Same here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Installment In The "A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words" Series

We've done a few shows on "Talking Animals" over the years focusing on the issue of feline de-clawing--which as our periodic guest and perhaps foremost expert on this, Dr. Jennifer Conrad, has explained essentially involves amputation--so we were quite struck by this billboard at the center of the new campaign by Dr. Conrad's organization, The Paw Project.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vick Story Has A Weird Wrinkle That Hits Close To Home

When it comes to the ongoing Michael Vick story, recently turbo-charged in the media world (most notable, Sunday's interview on "60 Minutes") and blogosphere by the double-barrel news that he was released from prison and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, I think it's safe to say there's been no shortage of opinions--many quite emotionally charged--being expressed...well, damn near everywhere.

For the record, my own view is closely aligned with that of Humane Society Of The US honcho Wayne Pacelle, who obviously feels that this particular leopard not only can change his spots, and did, but having done so is in a uniquely potent position to influence and guide young Vick types away from the dogfighting subculture--and Alec Baldwin, whose Vick-deserves-a-second chance piece on Huffington Post was, I thought, spot-on.

But as has been made abundantly clear since the first bit of Vick news broke--and was underscored on last night's edition of "Larry King Live," which did a nice job of capturing some of the chief facets of the current Vick brouhaha, featuring a key exec from PETA, a key exec from HSUS, a Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter and James Brown, who conducted the "60 Minutes" interview--animal welfare groups, including the most notable ones, are sharply divided on the matter.

We've already outlined the Pacelle/HSUS position, whereas the PETA stance is squarely opposed to Vick--and vehemently opposed to Vicks' new Eagles contract. Part of PETA's campaign to make this displeasure known, loud and clear, is to urge PETA supporters to boycott Eagles sponsors, and otherwise communicate just how unhappy they are with the Eagles, and anyone affiliated with the Eagles.

Here's where the plot thickens (or sickens): One of those sponsors is an organization called The Strauss Foundation. Now, I don't know what this Strauss Foundation does, but I will tell you I'm part of something called The Strauss Foundation--full name: The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation--which, as the longer name suggests, provides public service scholarships.

Our Strauss Foundation is based in Newport Beach, CA, was founded more than a dozen years ago by Mom, the late Dorothy Strauss (to pay tribute to my Dad after he died, the titular Donald, and cultivate interest in public service) and provides those scholarships to juniors at more than 15 California colleges and universities, including Stanford and all the UCs.

My Mom's vision for the foundation has proved to be pretty remarkable. We're now mentioned by administrators at prominent schools in the same breath as big, venerable, national scholarships like the Rhodes. Our alumni include a slew of impressive young adults (among them, multiple Rhodes Scholars)--one is a member of the Obama Administration, working in the West Wing.

So the administrator of that Strauss Foundation--my Strauss Foundation, as it were--rolls into the office Monday, fires up the computer, and there's a zillion e-mails, virtually all with the subject heading "sponsorship"...all quite peeved about our support of the Eagles.

But, of course, we don't sponsor or support the Eagles. We aren't that Strauss Foundation. Weird.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Writer Siebert Discusses His New Book—Which Was Re-Titled 11th Hour (And I’d Subtitle “Simian Roger & Me”)—And Animals In Crisis

I was greatly privileged to speak on Wednesday’s show with writer Charles Siebert, whose new book is “The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward A New Understanding Of Animals.”

The book chronicles his extended encounter with a retired circus chimp named Roger at The Center For Great Apes, a chimpanzee sanctuary in Wauchula, FL, but widens out considerably from the personal reportage of that encounter.

But as Charles made clear in our on-air conversation, his time spent with Roger had a profound impact on him (he originally intended to call the book “Humanzee”; it’s probably too late to consider my proposed sub-title: “Simian Roger & Me”), while serving as a jumping off point for addressing what he found at other chimp sanctuaries across the county he traveled to, and musings about scientific research and literature on the man/ape connection, as well as observations and reporting from other pieces he’s written.

Indeed, over the years, Charles Siebert has written a number of New York Times Magazine cover stories about animals and animal issues, most recently his July 13 piece on whales—a sizable portion of which was devoted to the phenomenon of “friendly whales,” the focus of the May 13 “Talking Animals.”

Other celebrated Siebert NYT Magazine cover pieces include an Oct. 2006 article on elephants experiencing something akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and, perhaps most disturbingly, as Charles and I discussed, this didn’t apply merely to captive elephants, but ones in the wild, too; and the story on chimps, the reporting of which led to his pivotal meeting with Roger and, ultimately, the new book.

In briefly addressing his career path, he explained that he came to writing about animals from a background as a poet. That makes perfect sense: "The Wauchula Woods Accord" and his Times Magazine pieces reflect the heart of a animal lover and advocate, and the soul of a poet.

Or maybe vice versa.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Blog Sloth Becomes New Animal!

Pictured at the left is a cartoonish depiction of 10-toed sloth.

By which, I mean that it's been nearly five months since my last blog post--for reasons too boring and pitiful to explain, though they largely involve...yes, sloth.

But I am ready to return to regular posting, mindful that the blogosphere is absolutely clamoring for yet another person with lots of fuzzy opinions, and even fuzzier grammar...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hangin' With Whales: Part One

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, give or take a few hundred. I just returned from San Ignacio Lagoon, an area in Baja California, Mexico, where mother California grey whales deliver their babies each winter.

Against all rules of nature--at least those I'm familiar with--these mothers not only allow strangers, human strangers, to get close to their babies, but encourage it.

To the point where these mom whales invite you to touch their babies; sometimes they seek an opportunity to be touched themselves. This whale, for instance, is being touched by my sister, Nancy. Incredible, no?

More posts, and pictures, on this trip in the coming days...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chrissie Hynde, Temple Grandin: A Tale Of Two Guests

One of the major perks of hosting "Talking Animals" is the opportunity to speak with all kinds of bright, fascinating folks.

And while I make a concerted effort to achieve a real mix, so that the type of guests and the fields or interests they represent tend to vary significantly over the course of any given three to four show block, I still sometimes wind-up with some intriguing back-to-back bookings.

Like the juxtaposition of my two most recent guests, Chrissie Hynde, who chatted with me Feb. 4, and Dr. Temple Grandin, who joined me Feb. 11. (By way of the "Talking Animals" archives, you can check out the Hynde show, and the Grandin show

They're both enormously smart, accomplished, well-spoken women--Hynde, of course, is the veteran Pretenders leader and animal activist, while Grandin is a renowned expert on animal behavior and autism (she herself is autistic), and bestselling author--but probably occupy decidedly spots on the animal welfare continuum.

For instance, Grandin eats meat (in a previous "Talking Animals" interview she explained she'd tried but abandoned a vegeterian diet, which she said created some medical complications) and has done pioneering work in fostering more humane treatment of animals at slaughter plants. Hynde hasn't eaten meat in decades, and for much of that time has been a vegan.

At the same time, the organization Chrissie Hynde has been most closely identified for the better part of two decades is PETA, for which she's participated in campaigns and protests (efforts that have gotten her arrested a coupla times). If you know much about Hynde, nothing here is surprising.

What may be far more surprising, to some, is that, in 2004, PETA awarded Temple Grandin a Proggy (PETA Progress) Award in the "Visionary" category.

Strange bedfellows, indeed. And back to back guests--and exceptional guests, both, I might add--on "Talking Animals."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Here's Another Reason I'm Glad We Live In This House...

My family (wife Colleen, son Mike) and & I live in Jupiter Farms, a somewhat rural and more than a little equestrian-oriented area of Florida about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach.

We're five minutes from the grocery story, other shopping and restaurants, so it's not all remote, but it feels delightfully remote. Of course, we have friends who live as close as West Palm Beach yet consider driving up here such a major trip that you almost think they should bring their passport.

And there is some serious driving to commute to WMNF, the radio station in Tampa where I broadcast "Talking Animals": It takes three-plus hours to get there, which means on days I do one or more radio shows there, I'm spending more than six hours on the road. (Thank goodness for my Prius!)

But here's an example of just one of the virtues of this house: Thanks to what was happening with California real estate prices when we sold our home there a little over three years ago, we wound up with some spacious digs, including a good-sized house, a nice hunk of land that includes a pond where fish and turtles reside, even a barn; I'm writing this post from my office in the barn.

Over the weekend, my wonderful mother-in-law Liz and her also wonderful Yorkshire Terrier, Monty--an irresistibly sweet, happy guy; we call him the dog who loves too much--were visiting, and while Mike was napping, I took Monty for a walk around our digs, with Colleen and Liz strolling behind us.

All of a sudden, Monty was trying to dart off, straining mightily against his leash. We thought surely he'd spotted one of the many squirrels who live on the property, but when we got a closer look, we saw that it was a raccoon. A gorgeous raccoon, calmly ambling just on the other side of the fence that separates our property from the road.

This raccoon was doing turns like a furry runway model, so we all got a good look at him--he seemed really relaxed as he finally climbed up one of the trees, and settled in. I came back later with a camera, but didn't see any sign of him.

It would've been nice to include a picture of him with this post, but that's OK. The fact that we could see a raccoon on our property (and, at the risk of anthropomorphising, that he seemed quite comfortable being there) was plenty cool.

And yet another reason I love living here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Slippery Slope: Do We Really Want To Send In The Clones?

The Ottos seem like very nice folks, and they clearly love animals: on their Boca Raton spread not far from where I write this, they share space with several dogs, cats and sheep--and as of Monday night, Lancelot Encore lives there.

Lancelot Encore, as you might have learned from seeing the Ottos interviewed by Al Roker on "The Today Show," or in any number of newspaper accounts (I read a Miami Herald piece carried in The Palm Beach Post) is the couple's new puppy, a clone of the Otto's beloved yellow Labrador retriever Lancelot, who died a year ago.

Oh, did I mention that they paid $155,000 for Lancelot Encore?

That's what it cost for the Ottos to bid on this, uh, opportunity at an auction mounted by a California bio-tech firm. They won, I guess, and they were certainly prepared: They had taken some DNA samples from the original Lancelot five years ago, apparently with a vision of--and hope for--what came to pass with the arrival of Lancelot Encore.

Leaving aside, at least momentarily, the monumental medical and bioethical questions of cloning animals--any kind of animals for any kind of purpose, ranging from food to companionship--there's a troubling set of issues here for those of us deeply concerned about animals, animal welfare, and the pet overpopulation.

I mean, we all could probably point to a certain animal who's passed away, but whom we consider extraordinary, with whom we forged a singular connection--and whom we'd love to have more time with. I certainly feel that way about an amazing black cat named Otis (after he died, I wrote this tribute).

But I never once gave any thought to cloning him and having Otis 2.0 in my life, even if someone else were picking up the considerable tab.

And I guess that tab is one of the most troublesome aspects here: I'm sure I'll be neither the first nor last to note all the wonderful, important things for animals and animal organizations that could be done with a 150K--from a slew of spy/neuter procedures to all sorts of veterinary services for ailing animals in overcrowded shelters to additions and improvements at such facilities.

Moreover, when many of us have devoted lots and time and energy over numerous years to trying to educate folks about the importance of adopting--never buying, much less from a breeder--animals, the Lancelot Encore scenario seems to be galloping toward the other extreme.

The Ottos suggest awareness of these issues by noting that they donate healthy amounts of dough to local shelters, and the next dog they add to their household will be adopted. Still, for all kinds of reasons, let's hope this story remains an isolated case rather than the start of trend.

And I should hasten to add this is not in any way intended to constitute a knock on Lancelot Encore, who's clearly an enormously attractive guy. A cute clone, as it were.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pretenders/PETA Contest: Calling All Animal-Loving, Aspiring Video Auteurs

So, I'm delighted for all sorts of reasons that Chrissie Hynde will be my guest on the next edition of "Talking Animals"--Feb. 4, 11:30 a.m on WMNF (88.5 FM) in Tampa, streaming live via our web site, TalkingAnimals--including that she's touring behind a terrific, highly-acclaimed new album "Break Up The Concrete" (many critics have suggested it stands shoulder to shoulder with The Pretenders' best work), and that we'll be chatting live.

On a somewhat related note, The Pretenders have teamed with PETA and YouTube for a contest in which folks can create an original video for the band's first single from "Break Up The Concrete," a zippy rawker called "Boots Of Chinese Plastic."

You can read all the details about the contest on The Pretenders website.

And while pursuing the Pretenders video action, I hope you'll please keep in mind our audio action with Chrissie Hynde Feb. 4...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Show of Shows...

Several years ago, when I was formulating the game plan for launching "Talking Animals"--and doing extensive research about (and listening to) animal radio shows--an important element that emerged was the notion of breadth.

That is to say, I was, and am a great admirer of pet shows, vet/pet shows and the like, just as I'm fond of vegan-oriented radio programs. In the right hands, I think both approaches can be well-executed and render an important service for their listeners.

But, personally, as a listener--and, particularly, as a practitioner--I tend to find both those realms too narrow, favoring a much broader gambit. Consequently, "Talking Animals" addresses a vast array of animal issues (including those concerned with pets), in large part by way of speaking with a sweeping spectrum of guests.

Having said all that, my guest on Wednesday's show was Dr. Anne Lampru, a holistic veterinarian whose practice is called Animal Alternatives, and damned if this edition of "Talking Animals" didn't closely resemble a vet/pet program:

Dr. Lampru was a wonderful: warm, accessible, articulate and clearly a deeply knowledgeable, experienced veterinarian--and as such, she was besieged with calls and e-mails from listeners.

Given this flurry of audience activity (and limited airtime), I had to forgo most of the things I wanted to ask her about, but sometimes the host's job is to recognize when to shut up and get out of the way. I was happy to do so, just as I was happy to host Dr. Lampru and deliver, for all intents and purposes, a vet/pet program.

I'm also happy that the guest on the previous show was former Ringling Bros. elephant caretaker/whistleblower Tom Rider, and that the guest on the next show (you heard it here first) will be Pretenders singer-songwriter and longtime animal activist Chrissie Hynde.

That's breadth, no?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Musing About Canine Matters On YouTube And In The White House

A few months back--knowing of my boundless fauna fascination--someone called my attention to a video featuring what you might call an unlikely alliance of a man, a dog, a cat and a rat.

Then it surfaced again in my e-mail inbox, this time forwarded with a note explaining the guy is a homeless man in Santa Barbara with his pets, and they set-up shop on State Street, a main drag I know quite well, receiving donations.

Ostensibly, according to this note, the Mayor of Santa Barbara shot this clip and sent it out as a Holiday greeting card of sorts. As with just about everything committed to video these days, it's on YouTube


Also, word broke in the last 24 hours that the Obama family is zeroing in on a pick for the Presidential pooch: As part of his interview on ABC's "This Week," President-elect Barack Obama revealed to host George Stephanopoulos that his family has "narrowed it down to a Labradoodle or a Portuguese water hound."

Then, underscoring Obama's tendency to be a wag (sorry), he added "We're closing in on it. This has been tougher than finding a commerce secretary."

These canine candidates have moved to the head of the pack because they're considered particularly compatible with Malia Obama's allergy to dogs. I'm fine with either choice, provided they fulfill their pledge to adopt--rather than purchase--First Fido.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Unlikely Hero Gives Voice To Elephants Who Can't Voice Their Own Complaints

At first glance, you wouldn't necessarily peg Tom Rider as a guy speaking up for animals and educating the public in the process.

I mean, he doesn't cut the dashing figure of, say, Wayne Pacelle, the handsome, dapper honcho of the Humane Society of The U.S.

Rider's rounder, more rumpled.

But heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and many would say that Rider, who was my guest on the Jan. 7 edition of "Talking Animals," has done heroic work on behalf of circus elephants--particularly those forced to sing for their supper in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus--for many years.

In 1997, Rider went to work for Ringling caring for the elephants, and over the course of a two 1/2 year stint, became a whistleblower after witnessing the daily abuse of those pacyhderms. That abuse involved the elephants being immobilized by chains for most of the day (often unchained only long enough to perform), and for even longer periods in the trains that transport the Ringling units, which means the elephants are forced to stand for hours in their own waste.

Worse--as has been widely documented in video pieces and by Rider (who reiterated this in our interview) and other Ringling whistleblowers--these wonderful, intelligent, complex creatures are repeatedly beaten with an ankus or bullhook which is heavy and club-like and has a pointy, sharp tip. Imagine a heavy and sharp fireplace poker. (I've done a Ringling-related show each year since I launched "Talking Animals" in 2003, and I've written on this topic for The Huffington Post and elsewhere.)

Tom Rider is now a central figure in a federal lawsuit brought against Ringling by multiple animal groups (including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [ASPCA], The Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Animal Protection Institute ) for mistreatment of the elephants under the Endangered Species Act.

That suit is slated to resume--some would say commence-- February 3 in Washington, DC.

In an odd intersection of heroic with nomadic, Rider essentially lives in his 80s Volkswagen bus, traveling to where one of the Ringling units is performing, making himself available to local media types and anyone else interested in hearing the dark truth about the life of circus animals.

Filling this role ain't exactly a get-rich scheme. Indeed, it would appear that Rider maintains a hand-to-mouth existence.

Joined by his daughter, whom he's been visiting in recent days, he had driven a considerable distance to join me in-studio for the "Talking Animals" interview, but wasn't sticking around for opening night of Ringling's Tampa engagement because his VW bus has a bum starter he can't afford to get fixed and he didn't want to get stranded in the dark, especially with rain forecast for the evening.

I offered to take them to lunch after the show--under the circumstances, seemed like the least I could do--but he politely declined, mostly because they needed to get back so his daughter could sort out a problem with her food stamps.

So, again, it's safe to say that speaking for the elephants--and against Ringling--has not served as a lucrative gambit for Rider. It's just something he feels compelled to do. As he noted in our interview, he plans to walk into that courtroom Feb. 3 and testify under oath, in large part because none of the affected elephants (even the ones still alive) can do so.

Those elephants will have a very forceful surrogate in that witness box.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back In Blogging Action; Here's To Home Hares

For many years, I haven't been a big personal proponent of New Year's Resolutions--mostly, I guess, because back when I did make such resolutions, they'd typically become a pile of smoking wreckage by, oh, January 3rd.

Sometimes sooner.

So while I'm accordingly disinclined to even flirt with making any such resolution, now, in 2009, I'm also quite prepared to resolve to do regular, consistent posting on this blog. Does that mean daily posts? Hell, no. In immensely busy periods, it might not even mean weekly.

But generally, there's going to be far more action here this year, both directly and indirectly tied to "Talking Animals," and damn near always tied to animals.

For example, one of my very favorite things about our house--and we're fortunate enough to live on a pretty vast patch of land, including a pond where fish and turtle live and all sorts of fowl visit (but more on that in future posts)--is that in the early morning and again at dusk, a handful of wild rabbits collect on different hunks of our lawn and munch away contentedly.

They're not the only contented ones. I find it deeply calming, and sweet, that these hares not only live on our property, but at the appointed hours, when neither sizzling south Florida sun nor assorted predators are factors, emerge twice daily for a lovely grass repast.

They project a sense of feeling happy and safe. Which has added a notable wrinkle to a looming family decision: Now that Mike Strauss is five years old and has learned to become careful and gentle with the cats that live inside our home, we're giving increasingly serious thought to expanding our family by adopting a dog.

Endless pluses, of course, to such a move, but one major potential minus of a pooch roaming our digs is that our rabbit friends would likely feel unsafe dining on our lawn. Not hard to imagine them disappearing altogether.

For me, at least, it'd be a sad loss if we could no longer herald these hares. Stay tuned.