Depends on Your Definition of Rescue
There's something about an organization that uses the word rescue in its name. You gotta figure it's going to take measures — maybe even extreme measures — to save lives. Well, live and learn, Tailpipe says.
Thereby hangs a distressing South Florida tale.
Sharon Wallenberg, a massage therapist from Fort Lauderdale, has taken in a lot of down-and-out critters in her 50-odd years. Leila was by far the saddest-looking little furball she had ever brought home, she says. Last summer, Wallenberg saw those two little eyes stare up at her from a poo-filled cage at an animal control facility in North Carolina, where Wallenberg owns a house. "It was the most pathetic thing I'd ever seen," she remembers.
Wallenberg paid the $65 adoption fee and began nursing the hound pup back to health. The animal had an infected puncture wound on her neck and a nasty case of diarrhea. After a few days, she stopped eating, so Wallenberg had to squirt liquid baby food into the back of Leila's mouth. Soon enough, though, under Wallenberg's tender care, Leila was a vivacious puppy.
Meanwhile, Wallenberg needed to return to South Florida, where her daughter is about to have a baby. She decided to board her five cats until she got settled in Broward and to find a new, permanent home for Leila. If the pooch stayed in North Carolina, Wallenberg feared she would become an underfed hunting dog. So she arranged for Leila to stay at the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach.
The nonprofit Adams shelter, which survives on public donations, boasts that it has been finding homes for castaway dogs since 1925. Peggy Adams employees assured Wallenberg that the only animals they euthanize are ones with serious health or behavioral issues.
Wallenberg dropped Leila off at the shelter on November 8 on her way down from North Carolina. Leila was five months old.
Wallenberg called the shelter almost daily after that, hoping for news of Leila's adoption, she said, but she couldn't get anyone on the phone. On November 19, she went in person. Shelter manager Ellen Floody wouldn't give her an update, Wallenberg says, instead instructing her to check the Peggy Adams website for further information. Another worker told Wallenberg that Leila was never put on the adoption floor. Nobody at the shelter would answer this simple question: Was Leila euthanized?
"That dog was perfectly healthy," Wallenberg says. "If they had told me they were going to kill her, I would have adopted her back again."
Wallenberg checked the Peggy Adams website every day for several weeks, with increasing certainty that the shelter had euthanized little Leila.
When Tailpipe called the shelter, it took several minutes for marketing director Su Jackson Ross to locate Leila in their database. At any given moment, Ross says, the shelter might have 200 dogs under its care.
Ross finally found Leila in the files. Ahh, yes. The dog was indeed brought in on November 8. Leila is now "deceased."
Ross offered to investigate further. "We don't put animals down for space reasons," she said. "As long as they're adoptable, they can stay here until they're adopted."
Ross called back to say that some employees remember Leila being "very aggressive" and that the puppy was put down for behavioral reasons. Does that mean that Leila earned a death sentence because she was biting or snarling?
Ross said she wasn't sure of the specifics and declined to inquire further. As for Wallenberg's right to "rescue" her foster dog again, this time from the gallows, or even to know the fate of Leila, Ross said, "Once an owner surrenders [an animal], it becomes our property."
It's a tradition: trapeze artists, hot peanuts, calliope music, clowns, elephants posing on pedestals — and protesters with signs that read "Ringling Beats Animals."
As dependable as crocuses in springtime, the placard-wavers nowadays follow Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus wherever it lands.
There they were the other day outside the main gate of the South Florida Expo Center as the "Greatest Show on Earth" kicked off its stay in West Palm Beach. In this case, it was members of the Fort Lauderdale-based Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (also known as ARFF).
ARFF's leader, Heather Veleanu, is a soft-spoken 37-year-old professional animal-rights activist (and a dead ringer for a grown-up Punky Brewster). She hasn't been inside a circus tent since she was 12, she says, when she looked into the performing animals' eyes and just felt "something wasn't right."
"Contrary to popular belief," Veleanu adds, brandishing a needle-sharp bullhook, "elephants have sensitive skin. The trainers take this hook and use it like a baseball bat on them." She swings the hook for emphasis.
Apparently missing the message, a silver-haired man rolls down a window of his SUV to ask the crowd whether he's reached the Expo entrance. They shout back: "Cruelty is not entertainment!" At that, he looks alarmed and rolls his window back up.
Many circus patrons, seemingly spooked by the spectacle, pump their gas pedals as protesters approach their cars. Others honk their horns impatiently. After an hour at the gate, the group gets an encouraging message from a teenager who pokes his head out of a black sedan exiting the parking lot. "I saw your signs, and now I'm not going!" he shouts.
The protesters erupt in cheers. Then one adds wryly, "He probably just realized the ticket was too expensive."
Veleanu, who has been picketing circuses for ten years, remains upbeat. "Being here, we plant the seed," she says soothingly. "I would venture to say most people have us in mind while they're watching the animals. And maybe they see the circus in a different light."
Or maybe they just think, a day at the circus sure ain't what it used to be.
On its website, Ringling Bros. says its animal trainers and their charges have "a relationship built on respect, trust, affection and uncompromising care," that the animals' performance routines "showcase their physical abilities and beauty, as well as their distinctive behaviors," and that "verbal or physical abuse" of the animals "and the withholding of food or water" from them "are strictly prohibited."
The 'Pipe is still on the fence here. He loves the gaudy, three-ring spectacle, including the lumbering parade of the pachyderms, but he wonders: If elephants could talk, would they say "Pass the peanuts, pal" or "Get me the hell outta here"?
Hark the Shark
As fish stories go, 12-year-old Aidan Murray Medley, a seventh-grader at Eagle Hill Middle School in Greenwich, Connecticut, has a whopper. Medley was visiting family in Florida on New Year's Day when he boarded a charter boat named Thumper out of Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach Shores and caught a record-sized bull shark — a 551-pound, carnivorous beast that his family is now getting mounted.
Medley's would be a record catch, beating the old mark by 34 pounds, says Thumper skipper Tony Rizzo, but state recorders stipulate that only the angler is allowed to touch the rod. One of Rizzo's mates helped the boy hook and reel in the magnificent creature.
"It was actually a slow day," Rizzo says. "I decided to hit a deep wreck southwest of Palm Beach. As soon as we got there, we hooked up a nice big grouper, but it got bit off by the shark." That's when the young fellow said he wanted revenge, Rizzo says. "That was his word: revenge."
So the crew put a barracuda head on a hook. Almost immediately, there was a strong tug on the line. Rizzo's first mate, Roy Rice, hooked the shark. Then came the fight.
"It was a long struggle to get the shark in," Rizzo says. "The kid stuck with it. He was tired, and there was a point where he had to be assisted. I don't want to take anything away from the kid, though — he did a great job."
On the marina's official digital scale, the shark weighed 551 pounds. "I knew it was big when we got it, but we didn't realize how big until we were trying to move it around," Rizzo says. "It was about 115 inches" — about 9.5 feet — "long, which is as long as bull sharks get. From there, they just get fatter." This one measured 100 inches around, the fattest shark Rizzo has ever seen.
So is it OK to land a big shark like that as far as wildlife laws are concerned?
Yes. There's a one-shark limit on nonendangered species, though environmentalists recommend a catch-and-release policy. Sharks don't reproduce like other fish, which release thousands of eggs when they're breeding. "A single shark can produce as few as two or three eggs," says Lee Schlesinger, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We like people to recognize that the [Florida] shark fishery is already depleted."
As bloodthirsty as bull sharks are — they eat more humans than any other kind of shark, Rizzo contends — they're still splendid creatures. They shouldn't be erased merely because they like how we taste.
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"Ordinarily, we wouldn't kill a shark," Rizzo says, adding that this one was "a magnificent beast, a beautiful animal." But the boy's mother wanted to mount it. "That's the only reason we even killed it."
The taxidermy could cost as much as $2,000. The megashark is being mounted by Gray Taxidermy of Pompano Beach, which claims to be the largest marine taxidermist in the world.
"We do about 1,300 fish a year," says Gray sales manager Tom Young, "but I've never seen a shark that big."
The taxidermists made a mold of the shark for a fiberglass replica. Then Gray cut the animal up, and a service that deals with discarded taxidermy material wheeled away the remains, taking everything except the jaw with its rows of dagger-like teeth — a record-setting set of grinders, Young says.