Let the fur fly: Time for the running of the animals, 2006
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The animal of the year, a Post-Gazette annual award, for 2006 was -- going away -- Barbaro, the colt who won the Kentucky Derby then injured himself frightfully in a breakdown at the Preakness in May.
Although the publisher's basset hound, Clementine, was a contender for the prize for obvious reasons, the story of Barbaro has enchanted the nation to this day. It is the story of one horse's recuperative powers, his courage in the face of life-threatening adversity and the skill of his surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, and other caregivers in keeping the animal on his feet and moving toward a fruitful life at stud.
If his recovery continues to proceed as expected, Barbaro will find a new home on a lush, green Kentucky farm by the end of this month.
In second place were two local winners, the tiger cubs born at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Post-Gazette reporters who saw them found them to be so cute that they wanted to take the critters home, which would have been a major long-term error as well as a felony.
The young cats got a run for their money with the zoo's state-of-the-art polar bear exhibit, which drew big crowds.
Substantially less cuddly than the tiger cubs were the shrimp found in the Monongahela River in August. Grass shrimp are bottom-feeders and about 3 inches long -- unpromising candidates for a restaurant menu or at a cocktail party nestled next to the barbecue sauce. Finding 11 of them in the Mon, however, encouraged scientists and others who adjudged their appearance to be evidence of improving water quality in the river.
Vivi, a prize-winning whippet at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Manhattan, escaped from her crate at Kennedy International Airport in New York in February. Reports of Vivi's run for freedom brought forth more information about lost dogs at airports than one might have wanted, including the tale of a three-legged pit bull named Zena. There are enough of these cases so that a pound has been established at the airport.
More human cuteness attacks were stimulated by Tai Shan, the panda cub at the National Zoo who went on show in 2006, attracting large crowds. The little beast was the first surviving giant panda cub born at the Washington zoo.
Finally, the efforts of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, during the 34-day summer war in Lebanon and Israel, called attention again to the hardships worked on pets and their owners by wars and other catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami of 2005.
The needs of the human victims of such cataclysms have to come first, but it is worth remembering that animals suffer, too, when man or nature produces such events. Given the plethora of wars in 2006 -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza as examples -- in spite of the tales of Barbaro, Vivi and Tai Shan, the year can't be said to have been a good one for man or for the animals in his charge. We will hope for better in 2007.
First Published January 6, 2007 12:00 am