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.