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Community mediation is part of Kaplan's legacy

We were pleased to see the Dec. 19 story honoring the retirement of Judge Lawrence W. Kaplan from the Family Division of Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas ("Family Division Bids Adieu to Judge Kaplan"). In addition to his many accomplishments listed in the article, Judge Kaplan was instrumental in bringing community mediation to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s.

He was active in the founding of the Pittsburgh Mediation Center and for many years swore in PMC's volunteer community mediators. In 2006, PMC merged with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime, another organization Judge Kaplan always took the time to recognize and support for its advocacy services.

Since the merger we have had the honor of keeping community mediation alive in Pittsburgh by continuing to offer low- or no-cost mediation services to anyone in conflict. In the tradition of community mediation, we mediate cases for neighbors, families, businesses and community groups, among others.

Judge Kaplan has always been a loyal supporter of mediation as a peaceful and empowering alternative for settling disputes. We are grateful to him for this enduring legacy.

ELLEN DeBENEDETTI
Training Coordinator and Senior Trainer
Center for Victims of Violence and Crime
East Liberty


PG readers respond

We at Animal Friends are grateful for Kathy Samudovsky's Dec. 22 article ("Animal Shelters, Groups Need Help Filling Wish Lists of Needs"), which illustrated how pets are being affected by the tough economic times. Unfortunately, non-profits like Animal Friends are being hit on the front end, as more pets and people need our supportive services, and on the back end, as fewer donors are able to open their wallets to help homeless pets.

Ms. Samudovsky also included a wish list of items that Animal Friends' homeless residents need, including pet food. Post-Gazette readers have proven yet again to be a generous resource! The day the article was published and in the days following, kind Post-Gazette readers came to our doors with armloads of donated pet food.

Another reader called to let me know that even though he couldn't afford to send a donation this year, he did receive a gift card for gasoline for Christmas. After reading the article, he decided to send the gift card to Animal Friends so that our humane officers could put a tank of gas in their van.

Thank you so much for helping us get in touch with these generous individuals.

JOLENE MIKLAS
Director of Communications
Animal Friends
Ohio Township


A home for elephants

It is intriguing to me that the same week there was an article on the Associated Press newswire about how elephants live longer in the wild than in captivity, there was another article in the Post-Gazette touting how Jackson, the male elephant at the Pittsburgh Zoo, has moved to a breeding facility built in Somerset ("The Jumbo Journey," Dec. 18.)

Kallie and Bette, two female elephants from the Philadelphia Zoo, are scheduled to join him, in hopes of more elephants. The AP article makes it clear that elephants are ill-served by zoos.

The Performing Animal Welfare Society runs a sanctuary for former zoo and circus residents. It has offered to take Kallie and Bette for free. This site would give them vast land to roam around every day, rather than have them stuck on a paltry five acres, then confined to a cement barn. They could live a quasi-natural life at PAWS -- something that has been denied them for the majority of their lives (both were born in the wild, watched their families be killed and then were dragged away to be shipped to the states).

It's clear to anyone who has a heart that the best place for Kallie and Bette is a sanctuary -- and one has volunteered! The only reason to keep them in a breeding facility is to make more elephants to keep in captivity, deprived of a normal elephant life. If the funds used to build this facility had been put into habitat preservation and protection in Africa and Asia, it would have far better served all elephants.

ANNE E. LYNCH
Swissvale


Smoking law unfair

Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act has essentially stripped residents of Pennsylvania of their right to smoke tobacco. Smoking cigarettes or any other type of tobacco product is unhealthy, as everyone knows. But to restrict someone of smoking in an establishment that has previously allowed smokers is ridiculous!

For centuries people have been smoking around non-smokers.

I completely agree with the designated areas for smokers and non-smokers. But to remove all smoking areas within an establishment is outrageous. I feel that the Clean Indoor Air Act was hastily put into place. Our government should have passed a law that would give establishments the opportunity to renovate their smoking areas.

Instead of putting a smoking area beside the non-smoking area, establishments could relocate smoking areas to a more segregated area.

Also, these establishments should have the option of updating their ventilation systems. With an efficient ventilation system, smoke would have a much harder time drifting to the non-smoking areas. This would greatly reduce the effect of second-hand smoke and create a more enjoyable experience.

Second-hand smoke can completely ruin a dinner or a night out on the town. There isn't a single person I know who enjoys eating a steak that tastes like smoke. But quickly passing a law without giving establishments the chance to improve their ventilation systems and smoking areas is a shame.

We are all created equal, regardless of our bad habits. Our freedoms should not be taken for granted!

JOE MUSLOE
Sarver


A dumber Senate

You have to be kidding me! Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Caroline Kennedy!

Who's next? Sen. Marmaduke, Sen. Ziggy, Sen. Elmo, Sen. Big Bird?

Henry Clay and Daniel Webster are probably turning over in their graves.

GERARD D. PASQUERELL
Pleasant Hills


Food stamps help

It's a surprise to most people, but one out of every 10 Americans uses food stamps. That's over 30 million people! And the numbers are growing daily.

People are also surprised when they learn they are eligible for food stamps. A family of four people must usually have a maximum gross income of $2,297 monthly to be eligible, and deductions are allowed for certain housing costs, child support payments and child care costs.

New in October, the Food Stamp Program in Pennsylvania does not count any assets you have in the bank or in retirement plans. Your house and your car also don't count.

Food stamps is not a welfare program, but a nutrition assistance program that helps people whose money is tight. If you live in Allegheny County, Just Harvest can help you apply for federal food stamps over the phone. If you already receive food stamps, we can't help you get more. Call us at 412-431-8963.

EUGENIA MOSBY
Food Stamp Specialist
Just Harvest
South Side


The question of gay marriage should be reframed

The ongoing debate about the legal status of gay marriage is not likely to be resolved soon, or ever, should we insist on solving it along the lines we've been arguing.

"Should gay marriage be legal?" mixes the jurisdictions of church and state. Marriage is inherently a religious institution, usually seen as the eternal bond between a man and a woman and the basis for a new family.

This model of marriage was adopted into the American legal system as the structure through which social and financial privileges are guaranteed to families.

The legal system of rights, tax breaks, inheritance, etc., of two people united as a family is an institution often called civil union. Historically, marriage and civil union have been considered one and the same.

The unconscious melding of these two institutions -- one religious, one legal -- no longer works and unfairly sets religious leaders and gay rights supporters against one another. Each group is often caricatured as extreme, hateful and prejudicial in defending their own reasonable and worthy points of view.

I challenge legislators to reframe the question. Marriages, granted by religious institutions, and civil unions, granted by the government, must be teased apart. To "marry" or partner, each couple, regardless of sexuality, will appeal to both their religious institution and their governmental institution to sanction the pairing.

This way, religious freedoms and civil rights are fully intact according to our long-held and vitally necessary edict -- the separation of church and state.

AMY K. BUCCIERE
Center




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