2016-05-12 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

A memorial plaque at the base of a tree on the north side of Argyle Lake in Babylon Village reads: I was not. I was. I am not.

When walking my dogs near the tree, those eight words remind me how brief our stay is on earth. I wonder if this inscription inspires other Argyle visitors to examine the accomplishments and goals of their own relatively short lives. Most folks want to believe their cumulative deeds have had a positive effect on others. Many are concerned whether their memory will live on through their children and good works.

Geniuses like Edison and Einstein made an indelible mark on mankind, opening the intellectual door to new horizons. An assignment in junior high gave me a first glimpse about how another famous inventor, as well as my teacher, could change the world for the better in different ways.

Decades ago some kids growing up in Massapequa were fortunate to have Virginia K. Witte as an English teacher. She was by far the best teacher I ever had, and one reason I later became a teacher. I was lucky enough to be her student twice- in seventh grade at Parkside (now Ames) and in 10th at Massapequa High. Originally from “Missoura” (as she would say), Miss Witte gave us a unique insight into literature, language and ethics. She’d take select groups on cultural trips into NYC. It was as if she could read the minds of her honor students. She’d cast us in play parts that fit our personalities and offer amazing suggestions on how our plots of fiction entries could be better, only after the creative writing contests were over. Miss Witte died from cancer quite young.


Plaque under memorial tree at Argyle Lake Plaque under memorial tree at Argyle Lake Miss Witte’s assignment was to design a whole issue of a newspaper set in a Yukon town during the time of Jack London’s novel White Fang. The newspaper had to include a true headline story. My lead story announced the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite. In doing the research, I learned Nobel’s brother died before him, and newspapers ran the wrong obituary, saying “Alfred, the merchant of death is dead.” Nobel was aghast to think he would be remembered that way. He wanted to leave a better legacy so he set aside his fortune (equivalent to $437 million today) to establish what we know now as the Nobel Prizes. Just think about how his award and its many deserving recipients have altered the course of historical progress throughout the disciplines.

Moving into the animal welfare realm, certain people deserve recognition for the total number of animals their hard work saved and continue to save long after these selfless people have died. These pioneers often altered society’s attitudes toward animals and how we should be treating them. I’d like to profile three:

* Henry Bergh (1813-1888) said: “Mercy to animals means mercy to mankind.” Born to a wealthy family, and later Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia where he witnessed owners beating horses, Bergh never had pets or children, yet he was founder of both American protective societies: the animal version (ASPCA) in 1866, and in 1874 the children’s protective movement (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Bergh was both honored and reviled for his work. Westminster Kennel Club donated the proceeds of their first NYC dog show in 1877 to Bergh for the ASPCA. However, newspapers then dubbed

Meddler” for his aggressive actions to frequently interfering with the standard time that animals were property and owners were free to treat them in any way that they desired.

* Dr. Mark L. Morris, Sr. (1900-1993) said: “For years animals have been used for medical research into human ills, and now it’s time that something be done for the animals themselves.” Morris was a small town NJ doctor with veterinary vision. He was one of the first to suggest a clinician could use urine or blood to predict disease in dogs and cats, developing several medical tests himself. In the 1930s he discovered that he could manage a dog’s kidney ailments by creating a diet low in salt and protein. He used this to prolong the life of Buddy, the first US seeing eye dog. Encouraged by Buddy’s blind owner, Morris began manufacturing his special diet during WWII when tin cans were quite scarce. His formulas eventually became Hills Prescription Diets. The new company’s success allowed Morris to fulfill his dream to improve animal welfare. The contract with Hills stipulated that one half cent of each can sold go to the Buddy Foundation (later renamed for Morris).

In 1948, Dr. Morris founded Morris Animal Foundation (MAF), a global leader in supporting scientific research that advances veterinary medicine. MAF has invested more than $100 million toward more than 2,400 studies that have improved the health and quality of life for dogs, cats, horses and wildlife around the world.

These studies have led to better preventions, diagnostic tools, treatment protocols and even cures for what ails the world’s animals–from white rhinos to bald eagles to dogs. Some of these breakthroughs have become industry gold standards and are used in every veterinary practice in the country.

* Dian Fossey (1932-1985) said: “Gorillas are almost altruistic in nature. There’s very little if any “Me-itis.” When I get back to civilization, I’m always appalled by “me-me-me.” Fossey was an American zoologist, primatologist and anthropologist who undertook an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda over a period of 18 years. (She had some funding from MAF above.) Her 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist, combines her scientific study of the gorillas at Karisoke Research Center with her own personal story. It was adapted into a 1988 film of the same name. Fossey was murdered in Rwanda during 1985; the case remains open. The findings from scientists like Fossey and Dr. Jane Goodall have also made society rethink whether humans have the right to imprison fellow primate species for laboratory studies.

Adoptable at Babylon Animal Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St., W. Babylon: “Roxy” 16-197 is a six-year-old Pomeranian, sweet, shy and neglected, while “Captain” 6-116 is a kitten with a cute moustache that’s growing up at the shelter. Babylon will have a free rabies vaccine clinic for pets of Suffolk owners at Town Hall on Sat., May 21. Details next week.

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