The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 28, 2013

Random thoughts on a Monday ...

Editor and Publisher
John H. Walker

TARBORO — Kudos to all of our town, county and state employees who worked to get our streets and roadways ready for Friday’s inclement weather.

The preparation effort got under way on Thursday and continued Friday. Friday night, as the ice was coming to an end, there were trucks out sanding and grading ice off the surface with bladed trucks.

The work of those crews didn’t end then, but continued on Saturday as crews were still sanding, salting and scraping the ice off the roadways.

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What about the “No Budget, No Pay Act” that was overwhelmingly passed last week in the House of Representatives?

While there have been a wide mixture of comments regarding its passage, it clearly puts the ball in the Senate’s court — where there has been no budget submitted for four years, but plenty of criticism of the Republicans for there not being one.

The only problem with that is the Democrats have held the majority and could have passed a budget.

Still, despite the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” it’s not like the pay will actually be withheld — only placed into a trust until a budget is completed.

The one thing it does do, however, is shine the spotlight where it belongs and, if no budget is forthcoming, the onus will be on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his party.

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To the south of us, a  Jacksonville, N.C. church’s plan to use a dead vulture to ward away the live ones seems to be working.

The Daily News of Jacksonville reported Bethlehem Baptist Church contracted with the U.S. Agriculture Department to use vulture effigies to ward away live birds that were destroying the church roof.

The dead bird went up about a month ago. Vultures that used to flock to the church roof now hang out elsewhere.

The USDA also has used bird effigies to reduce the potential for bird strikes on military planes, including at New River and Cherry Point air stations. The USDA hung effigies from the water towers in Jacksonville and Havelock.

•     •     •

Gaston County commissioners have unanimously voted to ask North Carolina lawmakers to pass a bill that would keep the names of people who own gun permits from the public.

Commissioner Tracy Philbeck told the Gaston Gazette that he doesn’t want media outlets to request the list and publish it like a newspaper in New York did.

Currently, the name, age and home address of anyone who gets a gun permit in North Carolina is public information. Philbeck says 41 states already keep that information private.

Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger says if he was asked for a list of gun permit owners in Gaston County, he would defy North Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act and not release the list.

•     •     •

Since Stephanie and I adopted Bridget from the St. Tammany Parish Humane Society, this AP story from Jefferson, N.H. caught my eye ... it’s about a sled dog that has lost its sight, but not its love to pull and run ... it makes for long column but is a good read.

 “When Gonzo started tripping over his food dish three years ago, no one could explain or stop the Alaskan husky’s quickly advancing blindness. But a veterinarian offered some simple advice: “Run this dog.”

“Gonzo, one of 120 dogs at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, was happy to comply. With help from his brother, Poncho, he soon resumed his place pulling a sled all over New Hampshire’s North Country to the delight of tourists and his caretakers, who quickly realized that if Gonzo didn’t treat his blindness like an obstacle, neither would they. Given the dog’s obvious eagerness, he was allowed to continue on as usual.

“Even though he’s blind, he still knows when hook-ups are happening. He’s still very aware,” said kennel manager Ben Morehouse. “When you have a dog such as Gonzo, with such a want and a drive and a desire ... you try it, you hook up, you see what happens.”

A frenzy of excited barking engulfs the kennel whenever Morehouse and other staffers haul out a sled. The chosen team is outfitted with harnesses and booties; those left behind scramble onto their doghouse roofs and howl. Gonzo and Poncho are lined up side-by-side, usually toward the back of the eight-member team — “brains to brawn” is how Morehouse describes the order.

“A lot of people say everything about dog sledding is efficiency. Gonzo and Poncho are not the most efficient sled dogs out there. They won’t set a speed record, they won’t pull the most you’ve ever seen,” Morehouse said. “To be honest, they’re probably some of the goofiest dogs you can put in harness. But they’re just fun.”

Some dogs at the kennel, including Gonzo and Poncho, were born there. But it’s also home to what kennel owner Neil Beaulieu calls “second-chance” dogs — former professional sled dogs a bit past their prime — as well as dogs rescued from bad situations.

The barking continues as the dogs pull away from the kennel onto a snow-packed trail. Within a few minutes, however, they settle into a nearly silent rhythm, the sled’s runners skimming through the woods. While the other dogs look straight ahead, Gonzo often lifts his head up and to the right, using his hearing and sense of smell, said Karen Tolin, who has worked her way up from volunteer “poop scooper” to business partner in the years since she first came to Muddy Paw.

When Gonzo first went blind, Poncho didn’t treat him any different, she said. But then he realized his brother needed help.

“At first, he’d be a little bit nervous when Gonzo would lean into him. And then somehow — I don’t know how dogs communicate — he learned that he was utilizing him to determine where the turns are and how fast they were going. And he would let him do that — he wouldn’t get as grumbly as he did in the beginning.”

Usually if a dog trips, the others just keep going, Morehouse said.

I’ve never seen it with any other dog,” he said. “There’s definitely a bond there and communication beyond what we do with the two dogs, between the two of them themselves.”

Beaulieu describes a spring day when he took the pair for a ride on a trail known for its deep snow, and Gonzo strayed to the edge of the trial and stumbled. With the team still moving forward, Poncho reached over, dug his head in the snow and pulled his brother out, grabbing his harness with his teeth.

“He essentially picked him out of the powder ... threw him back on the trail and never skipped a beat,” Beaulieu said. “I’ve run dogs in a lot of places, all over the country, and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen sled dogs do.”

Sled tours range from 20-minute trips from the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods to a 50-mile overnighter billed as the “Longest Dog Sled Ride in the Northeast.” Money from the tours help support what Beaulieu says has become a main focus — finding loving homes for dogs that might otherwise be killed.

“It’s become much more than just a sled dog kennel,” Beaulieu said. “A lot of shelters deem sled dogs unadoptable, and they put them down. For myself and the entire crew here, we know that’s false. They are very adoptable.”





(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of The Daily Southerner. He can be reached at editor@dailysoutherner or 823-3106.)