Archive for July, 2007

July 26, 2007

There are times when you do a story, and it changes your life, your outlook, or puts you back in touch with something that was once important to you. The elephant training story was one of those. I have loved elephants since I can remember, and I have interacted with them on numerous stories, but this was so much more than that. Asking a four ton animal to do something is a great responsibility, and, consequently, a great joy.

And there is no one you would rather have right by your side than this man, Willie Theison. I have said it before, and I will say it again. He is one of the top elephant managers in the world, and his knowledge of elephant behavior is uncanny. It is more than knowledge, actually. It is an integral part of his being. He has been a crucial part of the success of the breeding program here in Pittsburgh.

When we had talked about doing this, the plan was to use the eight year old female, Victoria. I was stunned when he brought in Tash, the matriarch. She is my favorite, and I really love her. But working her for the first time was quite a different matter. In hindsight, it ranks right up there with flying with the Thunderbirds. Of course, I threw up three times in the little bags the pilots put in your flight suit, so I guess Tash comes out on top.

Speaking of bodily functions, Tash poops and urinates on command. I wanted to show that, but others at work thought it might not be very appetizing during the dinner hour. Why, you say is “pooping on command” necessary? Well, if you are going to do a pregnancy test, or ultrasound, it would be a good idea if you don’t have a canal full of poop. Willie was emphatic about why they train elephants. None of their contact with the elephants is to dominate them. It is for their care. While most of us wish no animals needed to be in captivity, I believe they are a valuable tool in trying to educate people about the conservation mission. It is unacceptable to think that these astounding creatures could disappear from the forests and plains of Africa and Asia. Some compromise must be worked out. But in the meantime, Willie, Zoo Director Barbara Baker, and Mammal Curator, Amos Morris, not to mention all the other keepers, vet techs and veterinarians who work with them, strive to make their herd, their captive experience as natural as possible. That is what the International Conservation Center is all about in Somerset County. But I digress( which is nothing new–it is why I stink at golf).

While I am at it, I do want to mention all the guys and gals who work with Willie–this is Joe Galvanek, a great young man who just got married to one of the zoo’s vet techs, Libby. It was Libby who drew the blood from Tash when Willie made me ask her -Tash, not Libby- to lie down. How brave they all are! Oh, and listen to this! Joe asked Libby to marry him by writing it on the back of the ear of Victoria( I think it was Victoria, but I know it was some elephant), where Libby was about to draw blood. What a great proposal. I personally think it can’t get any more romantic than that!

Then there are Brian McCampbell, Ed Brown, and Lisa Caruso. She has a little toddler, and she is so great with the big bull, Jackson. Of course, he is not handled in what they call natural contact. He is worked in protected contact, but he really likes Lisa. All of them have experience in Willie’s mantra–something he was told when he first started. “The only thing you can make an elephant do is run away. Everything else you make them want to do. “

Many zoos have gone to protected contact, for a variety of reasons. But Willie believes the success of our breeding program hinges on the health of the pregnant cows. As he says, birthing a 200 pound baby takes quite a lot of energy, so his exercise program with the elephants involves running up hill. And that has to be done in natural contact. In the wild, elephants walk great distances for food. They don’t have to do that in a zoo.

Willie also emphasized that they don’t work the ellies all the time. Only when they need to do it. The rest of the time, they get to be elephants in a herd. To make it easier for the growing family (two elephants are pregnant now) to be together, they are building a “family room.” And there will be big glass windows so the public can watch them all together.

Willie said that all these elephants are trained in protected contact. So, if Barbara would, as he said,”heaven forbid,” retire, and someone else came in as a protected contact proponent, the elephants could switch over. But he explained that it would mess with the elephants more than it would mess with the keepers, because the ellies wouldn’t understand.

It comes down to this. Walking Tash back to the herd, turning and waving good-bye, and seeing her reach her trunk toward me and Willie (okay, she was reaching toward Willie probably, or she wanted another treat–just let me anthropomorphize, okay?)–well, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Thanks to all mentioned above, and Tracy Gray and Connie George in the Communications department for making it happen.


July 19, 2007

How can I thank them enough? DVE’s Val Porter, her boyfriend, Tim Mackin, and Jeff Woods, dog trainer extraordinaire. I confess, I would not have had the patience Val and Tim have had with Geno, and they are an example of how owners who are willing to take the time, and give the firm love, can turn a dog around. Val says it was Tim who initially was determined to rehabilitate Geno. Val was at her wit’s end. But she has stepped up, and ramped up her “authoritative” self.

The Growl Class went more smoothly than I expected, and some people told me it was mild compared to some of them. When aggressive dogs are introduced, apparently they can be hard to bring in line. I really admired the vet, Robin Dutra, who adopted the Catahoula Leopard Dog. Pearl was also part Pit Bull, she thought. But I know some breeders who cross with Roddies. She was right. He loved people. But he got to close to a dog in front of him, and she was on him in a flash. It would have been adorable, if it hadn’t been potentially dangerous. I think she is going to make it with him.

I also loved meeting Baron, and his owner, Annette Wegg. Baron had been in Growl Class for a long time, and finally was in a regular class. Beautiful German Shepherd Dog. German lines, and trained in German. I asked if I could give him a treat, and she said she didn’t know if he would take it. He did, but I didn’t find out until later, on the phone, that he had never taken a treat from a stranger. Wish I had known. I wouldn’t have been so brazen to do it. She works with him everyday, and it shows.

We have gotten a lot of calls and emails from folks who didn’t see it or get the name, so here it is. Jeff is very humble, and says other dog trainers have similar socialization classes, but I don’t know their numbers, so here is Jeff’s. Misty Pines, 412-364-4122. Hope it helps.

While I am at it, I’d like to thank a couple of people. First, the wonderful folks who put on the Autism Speaks fundraiser at Nevillewood on Friday, July 13. Doug and Donna Lund, and Donna’s parents, Fran and Sue Prezioso pulled it together, and did an amazing job for their first event, especially when wind whipped through and almost elevated their tent–they were scurrying around to move all auction items inside. I helped them do the live auction in which the audience was more than generous. I have done a number of these, and I sound like a fish wife. What is a fish wife, anyway? I think I know the derivation of the term, but let’s not go there. Anyway, people just came up with vacation homes to donate, so it got a bit chaotic, but raised lots of money for a cause that needs more publicity. They showed a 12 minute documentary, called “Autism Everyday,” which was just interviews with mothers of autistic children, and the struggle both they , and the children, and other family members, all have. It didn’t pull any punches, but was incredibly moving, and I think was a major factor in people digging deeply when it came time to bid. The film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. 1 in every 150 children are diagnosed with autism, and 1 in 94 are boys. We can only pray that new research finds out more about the genetic components, and uncovers the environmental triggers that are suspected.

And a last thank you to an employee at WTAE who has gone on to a new job with a major international PR firm. Angela Braun was beautiful, intelligent, and one of the most pleasant people in the newsroom. She had her Masters from the heralded Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, and looked like the actress Kate Bosworth. Mike and I will miss her, but wish her every success.

July 13, 2007

41 Kennywoods, and Joe Denardo has been at 38. I have only done 26. I think I went on vacation years ago during one Kennywood week.

It is such a great park– full of nostalgia, new rides that keep it current, just the right size to still have character. Joe didn’t just attend the parade. He also came to the autograph booth, hanging out with the rest of the bunch. He is still such a force at WTAE–thank goodness. Don, who is busy signing in this photo, and Stephen still chat with him often. But I miss him hanging around everyday, calling me “Sarah,” and good-naturedly needling all of us.

Speaking of meteorologists, one who has long since gone, and happens to be a dear friend, was mentioned today as we were signing autographs. Someone came by with all these photos from 1990. I looked like I had a bird’s nest in my bangs. There was Frank Cariello, the late Paul Long, and Susan Davies. I have mentioned her in blogs before. She,her husband and little girl now live in gorgeous Colorado Springs. She moved there when she left Cleveland, where she was on WEWS for about nine years . So coincidental that it happened this day, because I had just gotten an email from her right before I arrived at Kennywood.

And talk about a reminder of years gone by. This couple, Jim and Patty, have a hat complete with years of signatures. It seems so odd to sign items for people, when all you do is report and read the local news. Yet, I suppose, because of the nature of the medium, we do come into people’s homes, in a para-social sort of way. I guess what makes it disconcerting, and I never seem to fully process it, is that they seem to know us, but we don’t know them. Events like Kennywood give us the opportunity to correct that imbalance, if only by a fraction. It does make it special.

But what is really special at Kennywood? The corn dogs, of course!!!!!! I fancy myself a corn dog connoisseur and have almost been carjacked making a midnight run for one. But that is another story. Most of us at the station agree that the ones at Kennywood are among the very best. It is not the dog, it is the corn meal. At least, I think so.

And then there is the parade. This is an entire team of young baton twirlers from Charleroi. I just loved their uniforms, and they did a great job of marching. We did a great job of riding.

These are the kids, and their parents, who joined me in my parade car. Actually, only the kids rode. Several years ago, a dear friend asked if her son, whom I adore, could ride with me. Since I don’t have children, but always wanted them, I was only to happy to oblige. Now he is too old to want to do it, and he has been replaced by a succession of kids whose parents are friends, or co-workers. These are actually two families. The man is Michael Bennet, our crack sports producer, who has the most precious four-year old, Josh. This is Josh’s second year with me, and he came up with a fancy two-handed wave to entertain himself. The woman is Tracy Gray, former assignments manager at Fox, now communications manager at the Pittsburgh Zoo. These are her two daughters, Taylor(the eldest), and Alexis. When we finished, even the 10 year old Alexis had to shake out her hand after waving for 20 minutes. Hey! Waving can be hard work!

But what a beautiful day it was, and the kids, both young and old, all went away smiling. Amazing how nice weather lift your spirits…I know all our meteorologists were breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the evening.

Beth Ostrosky: The Future Mrs. Howard Stern
July 2, 2007

This is a blog I failed to post before the U.S. Open. One of the nicest things about the May ratings period was having the opportunity to interview Beth Ostrosky, the fiance of Howard Stern, and a native of Fox Chapel. She was as bright, and funny as she was beautiful. She is a strong, independent personality, with a huge heart, and a deep love of animals.

This is Bianca, the bulldog who belongs to Beth and Howard.

Beth’s mother, who was with her at the interview, has become quite the Howard fan, as have Beth’s two handsome brothers, and her father, a retired oral surgeon, who was a former Pitt Panthers football player. Initially, he had been a regular listener to Stern, but Beth said it took some coaxing to bring him around when he learned that his own daughter was in love with the shock jock.

She certainly held her own co-hosting The View, which happened at Barbara Walters’ invitation. Walters is a friend of Stern’s. Judy Ostrosky (who is as beautiful as her daughter) and I agreed that Barbara would not have asked Beth to do it unless she saw potential in Beth.

Beth is already hosting a poker show on Spike TV, but she would love the right kind of vehicle on Animal Planet. She is deeply involved in the country’s largest animal rescue shelter, and is also a correspondent for the entertainment show, Extra.

It is always so refreshing to meet celebrities who are not jaded by their fame. Beth constantly reminds you that she had a great career as a model, but her relationship with Howard opened many more doors in recent years. Trust me, she has the talent, and ability, to keep them swinging open, and it couldn’t happen to a more delightful person.