April 19, 2004

The (Delaware) News Journal reported that over the last few years there has been a growing national trend to give animals more legal protection:

New legislation and lawsuits have been filed across the country on behalf of animals.

Several lawsuits against veterinarians aim to change laws that treat pets as property and leave vets unaccountable for malpractice. New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have considered legislation granting pet owners the right to sue for pain and suffering damages, including punitive damages for neglect or abuse.

Tennessee enacted such a law in 2000, and Illinois passed a version of it two years ago.

The Delaware House passed a bill last year to allow pet owners to establish caretaker trusts for pets if the owners die or become incapacitated. The bill, which is now in the state Senate, would help prevent pets being euthanized when no one is able to care for them. Several other states have similar laws.

Many attribute these changes to the increasing number of pet owners. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, about 62 percent of American households, or 64.2 million households, have a pet. That’s up six percent from 1988 when the first survey was taken. Almost half of those households have more than one pet.

What’s more telling is how much money Americans are willing to spend on their pets. It’s estimated that pet owners almost doubled what they spent on their animals last year, going from $17 billion in 1994 to about $31 billion in 2003. The bulk of it, about $19.7 billion, was for food and vet care.

“People are more aware of the value [pets] bring to their family,” said Jane Pierantozzi, executive director of Faithful Friends, a Wilmington-based animal advocacy group.

Another reason people have become more aggressive with animal abuse cases, particularly law enforcement, is because of the links between animal cruelty and domestic violence. According to a 2001 study by the Humane Society of the United States, animal cruelty is often a warning sign for future violence against people. Animal abuse is an indicator that there may be abuse in a household, either by the same person or victims who may react to their pain and feelings of helplessness by hurting animals.

Because of that, a task force Attorney General M. Jane Brady started tries to teach family physicians, veterinarians, and social workers to be aware of the links between animal abuse and domestic violence.

Fighting Over Fido

Court TV has done some stories about how divorcing couples increasingly find themselves fighting about who gets custody of — and even visitation for — family pets.


It would be interesting to go to family court and see what kinds of battles have been fought over animals. The paper says a few states have authorized pets to be the beneficiaries of trusts. Some animals, like cockatoos and parrots, can live for 70 years.


My wife and I have been named by a friend as the recipient of her dog, should our friend meet her maker before the dog does. Our friend swears she has willed us money to care for the dog. I am hoping our friend lives a very long life.

There is a website, www.petcustody.com, that claims to help people through their pet custody issues.

Cattle Rustling Rising

Blame it on high beef prices. Deputies in rural America say cattle rustling is rising. In one California County, just for example, thieves have struck more than 70 times this year.

Last week, Oklahoma investigators used DNA evidence to arrest a rustler.

The Washington Post said:

According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, consumer demand for beef has increased by 15 percent over five years and has not subsided much even after the discovery of mad-cow disease in an Eastern Washington dairy cow in December. That scare sent beef prices tumbling from record peaks reached last year, and prompted some countries to ban or restrict U.S. imports, but the beef industry is still doing well.

The Department of Agriculture is reporting that 450-pound steer calves, for example, are selling for about $116 per 100 pounds. That price is slightly higher than the average sale last year.

A calf stolen shortly after birth and raised to that weight can fetch about $500 for a rustler or the person to whom he sells the animal. Investigators say some rustlers are bringing stolen calves to middlemen who sell the animals to ranchers who slip them into their herds without notice, then reap thousands of dollars for little under-the-table expense. Some rustlers can earn as much as $200 for a few hours of work.

Military Recruiting Strong, Retention Rate Weakening

The people who are serving in the military are leaving faster than the Pentagon expected, but new recruits are signing up at a brisk pace.

Through March 17, nearly halfway through the fiscal year, the Army fell about 1,000 people short of meeting its goal of keeping 25,786 soldiers, a USA Today report said Friday. 

“The retention rate of 96 percent was lower than last year’s 106 percent, when more solders stayed than the Army had planned,” the report said.

About four out of 10 American servicemen/servicewomen (135,000 people) in Iraq are members of the National Guard or the Reserves. I wonder if you were as surprised as I was to see that recruiting for the National Guard and Reserves is not only good, it is very good these days according to Senate testimony.

The Virginian-Pilot

Despite a rising tide of combat deaths and the prospect of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come, Americans continue to volunteer for military duty and are re-enlisting at record rates. The services believe that a combination of patriotism and the economy is driving people to the military and keeping them there.

“The war is not only not having a negative effect, but it is helping to reinforce the number of people who want to join,” said Cmdr. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel.

Even the Army National Guard, which has had 150,000 citizen soldiers mobilized for up to a year, has seen retention rates “going through the roof,” Guard spokesman Major Robert Howell said.

“Mass exodus has not been the case in the Army National Guard,” said Howell, deputy chief of the Strength Maintenance Division at the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C.

The Guard was prepared to lose up to 18 percent of units returning from lengthy deployments, but they have averaged 16.6 percent, with some as low as 12.6 percent, Howell said.

The Guard fully expects to again reach its recruiting goal of 56,000 members this year to maintain its total strength of 350,000.

The Pilot said:

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all met or exceeded their year-end recruiting goals for fiscal 2003, which ended Sept. 30. The figures continued to climb in the first half of fiscal 2004, which was reached March 31.

The (Durham) Herald-Sun reported recently:

“Our soldiers and airmen are enlisting at record-setting rates,” Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, of the National Guard Bureau, told lawmakers during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. (April 6, 2004) “They are staying with us because they feel what they are doing is vitally important.” …

In North Carolina, the state Guard met its re-enlistment goals by 124 percent last year, said Spc. Robert Jordan, of the National Guard of North Carolina. “We have a lot of family support centers,” Jordan said. “There are also a great amount of opportunities in the National Guard.”

Meanwhile, Ralph Nader is saying that the day is near when local draft boards will be up and operating. 

Attracting Sports Fans

Here is a newspaper after my heart, the (Ft. Worth) Star-Telegram turned a sports topic into a Computer-Assisted Reporting project. 

The paper wanted to find out what attracts fans to baseball games. Is it ticket prices, winning records, weather, star players? The paper found some surprises. For one thing, it found that sometimes teams with the highest prices saw the largest crowds and even increases in attendance.

The Star-Telegram analysis found that runs scored, payroll, and fan costs played the largest roles in attracting fans to major-league baseball stadiums from 1999 to 2003.

Here’s what teams got back for their performance, and their prices, on average for all 30 teams:

• Every increase of 100 runs scored brought in 273,160 fans.

• Every $10 million increase in payroll brought in 130,000 fans.

• Every $10 increase in the cost of attending a game brought in 51,372 fans.

The analysis looked at eight key factors to determine which had the largest effect on major-league ticket sales — team payroll, winning percentage, playoff appearances, home runs, runs scored, pitchers’ earned run averages, ticket prices, and what is known as the fan cost index. The index measures the cost for a family of four to attend a game, including tickets, parking, souvenirs, and refreshments.

Interestingly, the higher the cost, the higher the attendance.

Winning percentage had an unpredictable effect on attendance, the analysis found. Across the major leagues, teams with high winning percentages were as likely to have low attendance as high attendance.

Playoff appearances, which are, of course, tied to winning percentage, had a short-term effect, increasing attendance at least slightly the following season.

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Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, story excerpts, and other materials from a variety of websites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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