Letters for the week of July 9-15, 2003 

If the doggie lawyers win, pet owners suffer; if racial politics wins, animals and children suffer.

"The $50,000 Mutt," Feature, 6/11

I love my slime mold
My first impression was: "Oh, great, a couple of unemployed lawyers with a cause." I do admit that this attitude remains.

Jennifer and David obviously cared about their pet, as I do about my ten-year-old pit bull. And shame to you, by the way, for your demonization of pit bulls made with the cat-mauling remark. This has caused me much emotional distress, and I may call my lawyer and see if there is emotional damage here due to your prejudice and hate-mongering. If abuse of animals is to become a source of financial recompense, then emotional abuse surely will follow. Are you insured? If not, please ignore this remark. :)

I am more than a bit disappointed that two lawyers did not contact the state [veterinary] board, which is basically the first thing to do. No one with a state license wants any investigations, complaints, or any problems. You can lose one or have it suspended. The fact that only one vet has lost their license is meaningless, if true. Is loss of license any indication of effectiveness? Suspension, fines, and probation are three weapons that can be applied effectively. If you don't file a complaint with the state, you basically leave a bad melon for the rest of us to deal with. A very quick visit to the state Web site reveals about 15 percent of complaints received are acted upon punitively after investigation. Many of these were quite severe, including criminal prosecution.

So pooh-pooh to these folks for their actions. The vet blew it. I hope there is some action that can be taken, but I do not want to see it happen this way. Had a complaint been filed, the vet in this case may have had their license suspended or revoked. That is effective. A suit for damages is not, and the idea that money is balm for emotional suffering is a bit specious. I would far rather see a bad vet removed from the community than slapped with a fine that the insurance company pays.

And, of course, that is the end result. Insurance pays, rates go up, and so do doggy expenses. As a licensed contractor, ask me why I charge $150 today for the same work I did for $50 ten years ago, and why I will usually refuse to do it anyway: liability, liability, liability. Who wants to take a job that they will make $50 on, when the liability is basically endless? I don't, and you will pay out the nose for electrical work, if I even return your call.

My vet, whom I trust, is someone I have had a relationship with for ten years, and I suspect that should the law be changed so that he will suddenly find himself responsible for "emotional suffering," he will probably just retire. Or double his rates. I would. How in the world do you have a veterinary practice if a ten-year-old brings in a goldfish that dies when you touch it, and you get sued? You don't. Where is this line going to be drawn, in an already overly litigious society? Dogs, cats, turtles, ferrets, mice, cockroaches, and slime molds?

A further note, of course. Health-care costs are through the roof. Many of us, myself included, see our health insurance at ten times the level it was fifteen years ago, with fewer entitlements. Should the law require a vet to indemnify a pet owner for any real or imagined mistakes beyond a modest sum, then the vet will naturally recommend an entire battery of tests, at a tremendous cost. Having seen my dog through one bout of cancer, I know how expensive it gets.

So, as far as I can tell, should these two win, they get $50K and set the precedent for the rest of us to end up paying huge amounts for future veterinary liability insurance and mandated tests. Lawyers, indeed. What a service!
Ernest Montague II, Oakland

"And the Horse He Rode In On," Feature, 6/4

Mmm ... humans
Is it so? Certain groups have unequal protection under the law because of cultural bias? Tormenting animals is part of Mexican culture and therefore exempt from existing laws? Wow! How about cannibalism, a part of various and diverse cultures over the years? Betcha didn't know Christian crusaders practiced cannibalism from time to time. Let's just say the heck with it; we're all just geeks in the circus.
Dennis Francis, Fairfield

Diversity is a cover
Kara Platoni's article on Eric Mills was incredibly well-written and researched. Eric is one of a kind, and certainly both a sweetheart and a fighter. Many animals have been saved from injury and death thanks to his caring crusades. We work with him specifically on the live market issue where turtles as well as a host of other animals are kept in the worst conditions possible before they are inhumanely killed. Eric's comment, "There's a lot of crime done against animals in the name of diversity," is an understatement at the live food markets. We are constantly called racists for working to close the markets.

It's so easy to pull the race card when there is no logical way to defend this cruelty. The live markets in China have closed to prevent further transmission of SARS to humans from animals. Even this real threat has not closed the live markets in San Francisco. The threat of losing Asian voters has clouded common sense. Pathetic.
Susan Tellem, Malibu, CA

"Rich, Black, Flunking," Feature, 5/21

The other demon: self-hatred
Over the years I have heard many concerned African Americans say that we (African Americans) ought to think like the various immigrant groups, and be more serious about school and everything else. In 1991, John Ogbu published a paper called Understanding Cultural Diversity and Learning. His recent findings in Shaker Heights reflect the same issues that he raised in his 1991 paper. They are issues I have been concerned about for ages, both personally and professionally. Why do kids from some immigrant populations outperform African-American students? The answer, of course, is complicated by slavery and its aftermath, which established power, profits, and privilege for the white folks, while the black folks got poverty, pestilence, and oppression.

I suspect Dr. Ogbu may have started to wonder about the academic performance discrepancy among African Americans, continental Africans, and other members of the African diaspora shortly after he arrived here in America and started going to school, but that's just a guess; I certainly started to wonder about the discrepancy when I started going to college, and saw the seriousness with which the immigrant brothers and sisters approached their studies.

I graduated from a high school in San Jose in 1970. I am all too familiar with the fact that academically motivated African-American kids get teased and called names such as Uncle Tom and white boy. I lived through it. Pretty discouraging, you know. African-American kids who want to do well in school have to answer writer Jawanza Kunjufu's question and decide if they are going to be popular or smart. Parents, extended family members, and other concerned adults are supposed to help kids make the best, life-affirming decisions by teaching and training our children and by perpetually demonstrating what it means to walk with pride, dignity, self-respect, responsibility, and compassion. Buying children the latest and most expensive name-brand clothes, electronics, and other accoutrements of conspicuous consumption is no substitute for the tears, frustration, anger, satisfaction, and joy that good, solid, engaged parenting brings.

I have been an elementary schoolteacher since 1982. The student body at the school where I work in Modesto is about 10 percent African American. African-American kids get about 30 percent of the disciplinary referrals, thanks to the efforts of a handful of little boys whose behavior is as close to feral as I have seen. This select group needs more than what the school can give them. What they have brought to school is disobedience, defiance, and disruption. Their behavior causes some teachers to target the other African-American kids who are trying to get an education, and that's one area where the racism comes in/out. I suspect school officials are sometimes reluctant to suspend African-American boys, because they are afraid of being called racists, or are afraid of some sort of community backlash. Last year, the Modesto City school district faced an investigation based on the possibility that African-American kids face disciplinary action at a greater rate than other grown-ups within the district.

What do you suppose happens sometimes when an African-American teacher gives a disciplinary referral to an African-American student? Yep, it's right back to the name-calling I faced in high school: Uncle Tom, sellout, etc. A mother got mad at me because I gave her son a disciplinary referral. She said, "You is de mos' ignuntist black main I done eva seed!" ("You are the most ignorant black man I have ever seen," is what she was trying to say.)

African Americans have had to battle with twin demons here in America. Racism, the first demon, is well known. Self-hatred is the other demon, and is possibly more dangerous. As I see it, the only way African Americans will get off the "blame game" treadmill is to face reality, accept the truth, learn all we can about our history and culture, train our children, get organized, and learn to love ourselves, collectively bearing one another's burdens, and preparing our children for the future.
Paul Rigmaiden, Modesto

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