Sunday, May 29, 2005

K.C.'s up in Smoke

I just came back from a trip to Wichita of all places-the place we “big city folks” like to refer to as a Cow town just because they’re smaller than we are. Anyway, it seems this burg in western Kansas has some pretty progressive ideas with regards to its no-smoking laws because the choice of non-smoking restaurants is fabulous.

We ate at P.F. Changs, a restaurant I revere more for its non-smoking bar than I do for its food. But it was fantastic being able to go into a bar and not worry about my allergies kicking in from all of the smoke! When a table in the bar became available we grabbed it, because it was going to be over an hour wait to get into the restaurant.

Note to bar and restaurant owners in Kansas City: Yes, there are waits at restaurants when there is no smoking restrictions.

When a woman came into the bar and lit up, she was promptly told that smoking was only allowed outside. When several patrons turned to find out where the obnoxious smell was coming from, she got up and said she would just go outside and “put it out.”

That’s why it was shocking to me when I came home and read in the paper that Kansas City had just initiated a law protecting workers in office buildings and other places from second hand smoke.

I guess it was shocking because since the late 1980’s, I cannot remember working in an office that allowed smoking. I worked in and visited a lot of offices all over the country and thought that smoking in the work place was long gone, much like being able to pat a “secretary” on the butt and have her fetch a cup of coffee.

I grew up in a home where everyone smoked, my parents and my older siblings. My husband also grew up in such a household, but it wasn’t until we got out on our own and realized how we smelled, even though we didn’t smoke, that we decided that we wouldn’t allow smoking in our own home.

Now that I’ve been away from it for many years, I am a lot healthier. I don’t worry about my allergies developing into bronchitis or pneumonia on a routine basis.

I’m all for personal liberties, for everyone to be able to do what they want to do, enjoy whatever habits they want, as long as it doesn’t affect the lives of others. But as a person who is personally affected every time I’m around smoke (the main reason that I can no longer bowl, go to any bars or even take my Mom to the casinos or to play Bingo-which she loves), your smoking does affect other people.

There are several cities in the metro, Shawnee being one, which does not even require restaurants to provide a non-smoking section. For now, those are the restaurants and the cities we will avoid when dining out. And if any city in the metro is the first to become as progressive as Wichita and offer a no-smoking ban, that will be the city that will get our dollars.

Friday, May 20, 2005

If Chicken Little Says That the Sky is Falling....

Stories retracted, live “breaking” news stories that don’t tell us anything and “journalists” who have been found to make up sources.
Is it any wonder that public trust is eroded in what citizens once heralded as the “Fourth Estate?” Even journalists sometimes become frustrated.
I work from home and rarely have the television on during the day, except for the hour in which I’m cooking dinner so I can get my husband off to work by 4 p.m. During that hour, I like to flip on the television and watch the end of a soap and the beginning of Dr. Phil. I’m a news junkie; so I really don’t mind when real breaking news comes on to give us important details.
However, I’ve had to question what “real” news is in the past week and wonder if I’m out of sync or is it the media?
Last week, I turned on the television on a gray day expecting to find out who killed A.J. on General Hospital and instead got Johnny Rowlands in his helicopter talking about a severe thunderstorm.
“Wow,” I thought. “Must be some tornadoes out.”
As I started dinner, I listened to Johnny and the rest of the weather team talk about this thunderstorm, which was brewing in the Northern most part of the Metro. I looked out above my house, which borders the Southern most portion of Wyandotte County. It didn’t look that ominous.
The banter of “Do you see anything that resembles a wall cloud?” from the newsroom to Rowlands in the helicopter lasted for over an hour. Johnny never did see anything that even resembled a wall cloud, yet as I flipped stations, all of the local news was fixed on this thunderstorm, which was producing nothing more than tiny hail in scattered areas. I didn’t gather that the storm was a real danger to anyone in the viewing area.
On Wednesday, a 46-minute bank hold up-hostage situation lasted throughout the day. After the suspect was shot at the Executive Airport in Olathe about 10 a.m., there was nothing to report, except to repeat the same information over and over. The live coverage lasted until well after noon and I must have seen those poor women hostages trying to cover themselves with blankets over a dozen times.
In the past two weeks, news has broken that a freelance journalist was caught making up sources and Newsweek had to retract their story on interrogators allegedly desecrating the Q’uran at Guantanamo Bay.
Much adieu over nothing does little to solidify the reputation of the media in the public’s eye. Too much live coverage of slow moving chases, filming a cloud and bank robberies once there is no new information to report only irritates the public and creates a “Chicken Little” syndrome. One day the sky might be falling and people will not be paying attention.
There’s nothing more to say about making up sources and rushing to print without verifiable information except shame on us, the media, for allowing such a noble profession-one that is suppose to be protecting Democracy to get such a black eye.

Without the public’s trust, we really can’t do our jobs.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Chain of Abuse

What is wrong with people?
It’s become a familiar saying in my household when we watch any of the numerous newscasts or read the daily paper. I used to have an editor who put me on the “cops and courts” beat of the paper. “But,” he told me, “I want you to find the stories under the stories because if we simply cover a murder or a rape or a child beating, the public becomes numb to it.”
That may be a possibility for some people, but I don’t know many who could be numb to the story that has unfolded in Kansas City over the past four years of Precious Doe, a little girl we now know was Erica Green. The girl was beaten and decapitated and left in a garbage bag in the woods. It took four years for investigators to figure out she was Erica Green. Her mother gave birth to her in prison and she was by all accounts, raised by a loving grandmotherly figure who was a friend of her mothers.’ That is, until the mother and her boyfriend came to claim her. They brought her to Kansas City and the boyfriend beat and kicked Erica in the head. The pair left her lying on the floor for hours or even days until she died. In a sick twist, her mother also reportedly participated in vigils and handing out fliers when the community rallied to find justice.
Or how many people could become numb to the countless other stories of child abuse and animal abuse that are told each and every year? –The story of Scruffy, the Yorkshire Terrier who was beaten and burned alive, all while his torturers videotaped the abuse? Or the story of Maxx, a black Lab, whose throat was slashed allegedly because his owner dismissed the sexual advances of his killer? Or the dog in Missouri, who had multiple nails put into his head with a nail gun?
What does animal abuse have to do with child abuse, you ask? Some people say the abuse shouldn’t be considered on the same level. I disagree. Numerous studied have cited examples of killers who first “practiced” their crimes on innocent animals. Once they became bored with that, they escalated their crimes to humans. Luke Woodham, the Mississippi school shooter from 1997, first torture-killed a being he claimed to love-his little dog Sparkle. The horrible acts he perpetrated on Sparkle were documented in his diary. He labeled it his “first kill” and he considered it a test to see if he could actually carry out a murder. A few months later, he killed his mother and killed and wounded several others on a shooting rampage at his high school. The list of serial killers and people who have participated in multiple murders that was documented first to have tortured and killed animals is staggering.
So, what are Missouri and Kansas doing to curb the growing trend of violence against animals? Are they studying the link between animal and child abuse? Are they creating stiffer laws for animal abusers, which would include therapy for perpetrators to help stop the abuse before it escalates?
While Missouri has a felony animal abuse law, many prosecutors find the law so cumbersome and the test of whether the act was “deliberate,” that, as in the case of the dog and the nail gun (the dog survived), prosecutors will opt for the more lenient
misdemeanor charge. Meantime, some Missouri Legislators have been working hard to make it a felony to take photographs at animal production facilities (including puppy mills) without the owners’ permission. Missouri ranks #1 in the country for dog production and Kansas ranks #2. Many of these facilities are considered “Mills” and many are never closed down by state or U.S.D.A. authorities until animal lover organizations conduct undercover stings at the facilities.
In Kansas, one Legislator from Kansas City, Kansas, has tried for nearly 6 years now to get the “Scruffy Bill” passed so that animal cruelty would be a felony. His lobbying efforts had the greatest impact in the year following the Scruffy case in 1998, but his efforts have been continually blocked by the agriculture lobby.
It’s not known whether Erica Green’s mother or her now husband were cruel to animals before they brutally killed little Erica.
But both children and animals are the helpless in our society.
If we don’t do something to protect both, the violence and the unforgettable stories will continue.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Rich or Poor-It's a Matter of Perspective

Whenever my husband, Dale, wants to do something that really isn’t practical, he will usually tell me and let me be the decision maker (or the fall guy), which is ok most of the time.
That’s why, when a guy who works for him told him last week about a dog being neglected and abused that the owners no longer wanted, he called me, knowing I would probably want to go and pick the dog up.
When I did go to the house and witnessed one of the children hit the little dog in the head when she barked at me, I brought the dog home knowing full well that the Dacshund Rescue wouldn’t take her because she wasn’t a full Dacshund. My husband (who got us into this) asked, “Don’t you think we’re animal poor as it is?”
I guess that depends by what measure we are measuring poor. True, we already had three dogs and two cats. One could argue that financially speaking, we spend more than the average household on pet food and veterinary bills.
But I don’t usually measure our lives by how much it is costing us to keep this motley mix-matched bunch that found their way to our home:
We found Hershey, our 15-year-old Dacshund (soon to be 16) when she was six. She lived with a family whose children tormented her for the first five years and when she snapped at their son, they gave her to the grandparents. "We went there looking for a truck and came home with a dog," is the story I tell about her ending up with us. The grandparents couldn’t find her a home without children and were about to dump her on the local dog pound. And it was just in time for me. I had just lost my 14-year-old Maltese and having had dogs all of my life, I didn’t realize how much I missed having a dog around. Dale told me after her arrival, “I thought I would never see you smile again.” Until age caught up with her, she sported her doggie life jacket and went with us on the boat on every fishing trip. She even caught her own fish once as it jumped out of the water!
Emma, our German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix wandered into our yard several days after I saw her drinking from a pond down the road. It was the summer of 2001- hot and dry and she needed a drink and some food. Fortunately for us, she never left. She had the opportunity to return the favor. Emma literally saved my life six months later when one of my horses picked me up and threw me and started toward me to stomp me when I was down. Emma came between us, barking and biting the horses’ legs until I could get myself up. If Emma had not wandered into my life, I might not be here today.
Everyone knows I’m a sucker for a dog, so when an aunt called and said they knew of someone who had a Dacshund they didn’t want because “they don’t like dogs that lick,” we took in Molly. Molly can be my comic rescue or an adorable cuddler when I need her to be.
As for Dakota, our newest addition, we have yet to determine what place she will hold in this menagerie, but it’s almost guaranteed she will take a special spot as a protector, cuddler, comedian or maybe all of the above.
Tabitha, our 16-year old cat was going to be drowned if her mother’s owner couldn’t find a home for the litter and Cali was abandoned at our vet’s office. “I can’t keep them all,” he told me. “I’ll have to put her down today if you don’t take her.”
None of the dogs we have were spayed when we got them (except Hershey) and all but Hershey had at least one litter of puppies. Dakota is currently scheduled to be spayed at the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, which provides low-cost spay and neuters. I often wonder what became of Emma, Molly and Dakota’s puppies and wonder how many other dogs their puppies are producing that no one wants.
I recently heard that 5 MILLION animals are currently put to death in the United States, because the supply greatly exceeds the demand. Although these numbers are considerably lower than estimates just a decade ago, too many are still given up for many of the same silly reasons that mine were-they aren’t taught to behave with children; they bark; they lick or they simply outgrow their cute puppy phase.
However, I look at my animals and wonder how different my life would be had any of them been “put down.”
They’ve given us an infinity of pleasure, laughter and comfort.
Animal poor? No, I think we are animal rich.

If you are thinking of getting an animal:
· Please spend the time to research and choose one that goes with your lifestyle. For example, if you are gone for long hours every day, a dog may not be for you, cats are independent and can spend a lot of time by themselves. If you choose a dog, make sure it fits your lifestyle in terms of activeness and is of good temperament for your family.
· Spend the $50-$100 to have your animal spayed or neutered. I often quote the director of the KCK animal shelter who told me after I visited the shelter on euthanasia day, “For every parent who tells me that they allowed their dog or cat to have one litter just so their children could see the miracle of birth, I tell them to bring their children in to the shelter so we can also show them the tragedy of death.”
Every person in this country has a role in pet overpopulation, which brings me to the next point:
· Please adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue group. I tell all of my friends if they want a pure breed, I can usually find a suitable “throw away” for them within two weeks-usually much faster. There is a rescue for almost every breed of dog in the K.C. area. When demand runs short for puppy millers, they will stop making their animals over produce. It’s true that some of these disposable pets have behavioral or emotional problems (usually brought on by trauma or lack of training in a previous home), but I’ve never had a rescue animal that could not be worked with. Besides, when you adopt an adult dog, they are usually already house broken.
· Report abuse and neglect to your local animal control and keep on them until something is done.