Broadcast Blues 

Journalism can be dangerous; Hey, can't the animal-rights people all just get along?; plus cats, cats, and more cats.

Dennis Richmond is recognizable to anyone in the Bay Area with a VHF signal. He has anchored the KTVU Channel 2 News for almost thirty years now and spent seven years as a reporter for the station before that. After all this time in the biz, there are few first-time experiences for the veteran newsdude. But Richmond recently had one he'd rather not repeat: a death threat from a deranged viewer.

It all started a couple of months ago when police brought a man to Alameda County's John George Psychiatric Pavilion, where the shrinks deemed him a danger (to himself or others) and put him on 72-hour hold.

The patient allegedly told a nurse that he was going to shoot and kill Richmond because he was tired of the anchor talking about him on the air. The nurse quickly informed a sheriff's deputy and also warned KTVU management. The threat took Richmond by surprise. "It's never happened to me before," he says.

But it's definitely not the first time a TV reporter has been threatened or harassed by a viewer. It's not even a first for KTVU. Within the past two years, a newsroom source says, a man obsessed with the station's blonde female anchors threw a large rock through the station's front doors. Reporter Faith Fancher, who died of breast cancer last year, had her own obsessed admirer who sent her sexually explicit letters, according to her husband Bill Drummond, a professor at Cal's Graduate School of Journalism. Such are the risks of being a celebrity journalist. "If you talk with the people who are on the air," Drummond says, "they will grudgingly concede this comes with the territory."

Although the man who threatened him is back on the streets, Richmond says he isn't worried. However, he's pleased that KTVU's news director and station management are taking the threat seriously: They are seeking a protective order against the man in court. "I can be blasé," Richmond jokes, but his bosses can't.

Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

Two animal-rights groups fighting for the same cause are fighting each other in federal court over who owns rights to the phrase "Don't breed or buy while homeless animals die." The dispute pits two opposing philosophies about how best to make pet owners behave: sentimentalism or shock.

The Pennsylvania-based International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR), founded in 1959, uses the "don't breed or buy" slogan as part of its spay/neuter campaign, accompanied by a warm and fuzzy cartoon of dogs and cats. Awwwwww. Meanwhile the Bay Area's In Defense of Animals (IDA) -- which was in the news last week criticizing the SF Zoo's treatment of Calle the elephant and was in turn blamed by zoo officials for helping to hasten Calle's death -- takes a less subtle approach. The local group uses a variation of the "don't breed or buy" slogan on posters designed to discourage people from obtaining pets at stores, as opposed to shelters. The IDA posters feature pictures of euthanized dogs and cats. Eeeeeeeew.

So now ISAR is suing IDA for infringing on its trademarked slogan. The lawsuit says people have mistakenly concluded that ISAR produced the more provocative posters with the "gruesome" pictures. It describes ISAR as "an animal-rights organization which seeks to promote respect for animal rights through peaceful means."

IDA's founder Elliot Katz says his organization is fighting the trademark suit because the "don't breed or buy" slogan is succinct and effective. Furthermore, the slogan has been a rallying cry among animal-rights activists for many years -- long before it was trademarked. "It's a commonly used phrase," he contends. "It's just out there. You don't even think that some organization would say nobody else can use it."

Fighting Over Cats and Cats

Residents of a North Berkeley neighborhood are hoping their block will no longer be a kitty ghetto now that some cat-collecting culprits are moving out. The Fresno Street block behind Andronico's on Solano Avenue has turned into a giant litter box in recent years. A couple living in a house next to the supermarket's parking lot had amassed as many as forty cats that often ventured onto neighbors' properties to relieve themselves. "You can't imagine how hellish it's been," says next-door neighbor Francis Pisani, a lecturer at UC Berkeley's J-school. "We couldn't go into our garden without stepping in poo. We couldn't open the windows without one of them getting into the house."

Neighbors recall the problems starting two or three years ago. According to Pisani, things became unbearable by last summer. All the scat had attracted swarms of flies and the neighbor says he and his family began feeling sick, suffering from diarrhea and allergy attacks. Pisani says animal control and other city agencies told him they couldn't do anything. A city health inspector finally dropped by in August and threatened in writing to cite the property owners for, among other things, accumulation of animal waste. During another visit in November, an inspector allegedly removed a dead cat in a bucket. The city manager's office and two councilmembers also got involved and urged the couple to fix the problem. Ultimately, the tenants were forced to move, neighbors say.

Humane Commissioner Linda McCormick described the pair as "eccentric," and said the man is somehow related to the Andronico family. Property records show that the cathouse is owned by a partnership associated with the grocery chain, which operates ten markets in the Bay Area. Fix Our Ferals, a local nonprofit, trapped, spayed, and neutered some of the cats, but Pisani says others remained unfixed and thus the population kept growing. At some point, the residents erected a wooden fence to keep the cats inside their yard, but to no avail. They even put up netting, which neighbor Charles Anderson says the kitties began using as hammocks.

The Fresno Street experience led Councilwomen Betty Olds and Mim Hawley to introduce an ordinance making it harder to harbor hordes of cats. Under current law, Animal Control can't cite cat people as long as they are "working toward spaying or neutering" their pets. The proposed law would give them five months to have all their pets fixed. After that, the city would fine people who feed or shelter feral cats. Hmmmm. Seems a little tough to enforce. And Commissioner McCormick concedes that someone theoretically could keep forty pussycats as long as they were all fixed. She argues, though, that cat populations usually dwindle after mass neutering.

But are the Fresno Street kitties preparing for a comeback? Feeder took a quick peek over the fence the other day and saw six cats lounging in the front yard.

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