Today's Letters: On a mission for the animals

Letters to the Editor
Published November 17, 2007

Anderson Cooper has recently done two specials covering the massive illegal poaching of species from the wild in large part to supply the U.S. demand for exotic animals as pets. A few weeks ago Bo Derek and the State Department held a news conference in Miami exposing the massive illegal flow of exotic animals, second only to drugs and guns, coming through the port. ABC's 20/20 has done a heart-wrenching expose on the horrible conditions endured by exotic animals held in private hands. And the contribution of the St. Petersburg Times is to act like a supermarket tabloid and repeat 10-year-old lies and innuendos about my wife?

The good news is that after your reporter finished the gossip column on the front page, her discussion of exotic animal ownership did help create awareness of some of the reasons exotic animals should not be pets. She points to the injuries and to the difficulty the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has in just tracking owners, let alone enforcing the laws. Your Web site map, which allows people to click and see exactly where dangerous animals are kept in their neighborhoods, is an excellent public service. Hopefully showing Vernon Yates standing by the tiny cage he uses to cart animals around for display will make some readers question if this is a good life for the animal.

Sixteen states have already passed bans on private ownership of exotic animals, and there is a steady, unstoppable trend of limiting or banning it both at the state and federal level. My wife has been a leader in this effort, testifying regularly in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., which is why Yates and his cohorts continually attack her.

It is only a matter of time before Florida abandons its legacy of the 1950s of horrible animal displays all along the tourist routes and enters this century. And no amount of personal attacks like those in your article will deter my wife from fulfilling her mission to see this happen.

Howard Baskin, advisory board chairman, Big Cat Rescue, Tampa  

Goodbye multicultural swirl Nov. 14, story

Neighborhood schoolswill be better schools

It's been interesting watching people add their spin to the Pinellas County School Board's decision to return children to neighborhood schools. The biggest error seems to be the notion that this has something to do with forced segregation. There is nothing forced about segregation in Pinellas County. People live where they want to live. It really is that simple. Segregation is optional.

When we go back to neighborhood schools, getting your child into the school of your choice is as simple as living in the area surrounding that school. Is no one left who remembers the days when people chose their homes based in part on the neighboring schools? There is no law, no segregationist mandate, that imposes neighborhoods on anyone.

There was a time when most everything provided for minorities was inferior; from hospitals to seating assignments on buses and in restaurants. And particularly schools. We have evolved much as a society since the times of separate water fountains. One important concept we have learned is that schools thrive when they receive more support from parents and volunteers. This is much more difficult when parents live on the opposite side of the city (and often county) from their children's schools.

There was a time when the only way to guarantee equal education was to bring oppressed children to the perceived "best" schools. Since then we have learned the dangers of removing the schools from parents. Education is a triangle. It needs children, teachers and parents to be successful. The suggestion that minorities cannot thrive in their own neighborhood schools once they are funded and staffed on par with all other schools is an underestimation at best and racist thinking at worst.

So let's give back to the neighborhood schools the children we took from them decades ago. If it doesn't work we can always adjust things in the future.

David Fraser, Clearwater

Don't forget the poorest pupils Nov. 12, commentary by Rick Baker

Schools and families

I appreciate St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker's analysis of school priorities. Yet, I believe we must recognize some of the factors that block struggling schools from making academic progress. One secret of success is knowing where to focus energies and resources. I believe schools must develop more imaginative ways of integrating families of every composition into the learning process.

First, we must realize how limiting it is to visualize only the two-parent family as the model for our outreach effort. Today's families include grandparents as primary guardians, single parents with not one, but two jobs, often working "graveyard shifts." Similarly, we have students who work (not legally, but actually) 40 or more hours a week. We have homeless children, and adolescents who have moved out of troubled homes to live with friends.

How we negotiate the academic demands of school with families of every stripe is critical to classroom success. Families need services offered in venues and at times outside traditional school hours. The adults in these families need to learn strategies for monitoring homework, helping students read productively, helping their charges build perseverance and self-control. In short, we need "professional development" for the caregivers of our students.

Services cannot be available only when administrators and teachers are at work. The once-a-year Parent Night doesn't serve much of a purpose beyond public relations. Nor can guidance, special education and ESOL personnel alone do the job. Rather, academic assistance should be available to families through networks - local churches, libraries, community centers. If we are serious about promoting learning among the least advantaged of our students, we need a new infrastructure to support families. When families gain new strategies for understanding and reinforcing what teachers do, then students may likely experience a deeper understanding of their own mission, which is to use school time well to learn.

Antonia Lewandowski, Ed.D., Largo

Eckerd youth program may bid on foster careNov. 9, story

Promising news

Having followed the many media stories about the struggles with Pinellas and Pasco's foster care system, I was thrilled to read that a local, non-profit organization of the caliber of Eckerd Youth Alternatives is considering bidding on the contract to become the area's foster care lead agency.

I am quite familiar with Eckerd Youth Alternatives, as well as the tremendous leadership qualities of its president and CEO, David Dennis. In my opinion, Eckerd Youth Alternatives could be the antidote to many of the area's foster care ills. Eckerd Youth Alternatives has a 40-year history of caring for some of our nation's most vulnerable youth, and perhaps none are more vulnerable than those right here in our current Pinellas and Pasco foster care system.

I have known and worked with David Dennis for many years, and his background is remarkable. He is a visionary leader who has dedicated his life to improving the prospects for at-risk youth. He understands the needs of foster kids not only because he has worked with them professionally for more than 30 years, but also because he used to be a foster kid.

I applaud Eckerd Youth Alternatives for stepping forward to try to make a difference in the lives of thousands of area youth.

Samuel Sipes, president and CEO, Lutheran Services of Florida, Tampa

Ammonia leak

Stirring up fear

Politicians and newspaper editors have tried to link the Riverview ammonia leak to a terrorist threat. To do so irresponsibly promotes a state of fear and is more dangerous than any imagined terrorists.

Just because a kid can damage that pipeline doesn't mean a terrorist wants to do it too. To demand more protection for the pipeline is to demand higher costs to the business, the consumer and the taxpayer, for no measurable benefit.

From the California wildfires to the gushing fuel tanker on I-275 only yards away from Tropicana Field, acts of vandalism or simple accidents caused by a single person will continue to have inordinate effects on the local population. It is impossible to protect everyone from everything. Throwing around words like "terrorism" or "security" or invoking 9/11 will not change that.

Robert Aeschbach, Valrico

Ammonia pipe an easy target Nov. 14, story

Aiding the bad guys

I am sure the malcontents and would-be terrorists appreciate the St. Petersburg Times printing a map of the area's ammonia pipelines. There are some things that we (and they) don't really have to know.

Quintin E. Renner, Palm Harbor

Schools should pay for shade Nov. 13, editorial

A solar opportunity

Wouldn't it be great if Progress Energy and BP Solar teamed up to create shaded play areas for our schoolchildren and shaded parking for our cars by installing canopies of solar panels that would feed electricity into the power grid for all of us to run our air conditioners? That way, instead of schools having to pay for shade, the shade would pay for itself!

Thomas Eppes, Largo

Cuss, spit at your own risk in SarasotaNov. 12, story

Rules keep us civilized

My, how far we have slid from being civilized and having decent manners and concern for our fellow man! Who could possibly object to rules stopping people from disgusting, unsanitary spitting on the streets and cussing in public!

We are in a sad state when folks think it is a bad thing to have rules against them. Maybe those people need to go live in the woods where they can do as they please without offending others.

Wouldn't it be nice if parents taught their children at home that this is unacceptable behavior in public. Then maybe we wouldn't need such a rule. I guess that is too much to expect in this day and age.

G.G. Williams, St. Petersburg

Cuss, spit at your own risk in SarasotaNov. 12, story

An idea to emulate

What a fantastic idea: Crack down on some nasty habits. Who in their right mind would object to controlling the use of raw language as well as stopping a nasty habit? Spread the word: Sarasota is a city with respectful and considerate citizens in mind. Let those who object move to St. Petersburg.

Wait a moment; why not do the same in St. Petersburg? Open your ears folks, this is a good idea.

L. Foster, St. Petersburg

With justice comes peace Nov. 9, Floridian story

A man of character

Thank you, Samuel Snow, for your honorable service to our country during World War II. In addition, your great character has been revealed by the way you have handled yourself following the Army's grave assault against you and your fellow soldiers.

I honor you as a hero, and I wish you and your family well.

Anita M. Knapp, St. Petersburg

Efforts should be admired

I am an extremely proud former volunteer for Big Cat Rescue. I dedicated two years of my life and free time - more than 1,400 hours while holding down a full-time job - to the care of the residents at the sanctuary who had been discarded by others. This article attacked not only Carole Baskin, but also unjustly and heinously attacked the extraordinarily dedicated and caring staff and volunteers of Big Cat Rescue. How dare you!

Mrs. Baskin has done a miraculous turnaround in a short period of time with regard to exotic animal ownership. Her efforts in being a good steward toward this Earth and its exotic residents are to be admired and emulated, not belittled by a story that dredges up information that is not news anymore and most of which can be found in the pages of www.bigcatrescue.org.

Lisa Shaw, St. Petersburg

A quick change of heart

In reading this article, I was struck by one salient point that seemed to go unacknowledged by the reporter. Carole Baskin, though she may have started her involvement with exotic cats and animals as a neophyte owner/breeder, very quickly and with apparent great conscience, realized the plight of the big cats and that their best interests could never be served by any breeding or pet trade business.

Further, the reporter, through the allegations and accusations levied by others who are in the business of the commercial exploitation of big cats, asserted that Baskin wants to be "the only game in town." The question is: What game is that? Baskin says her goal is to eliminate the exploitation and abuse of big cats and exotic animals so that the mistreatment inherent in this type of environment is no longer a threat to the quality of life of any exotic animal.

The article, however, does provide a revealing look at those who are the main offenders and prime examples of the need for efforts similar to Baskin's in eliminating exotic animal ownership.

Laura Lassiter, Tampa

Educational opportunities

In the past 10 months, the education department at Big Cat Rescue has hosted private group tours for 4,652 people. This is above and beyond the more than 20,000 visitors who attended the daily public tours thus far in 2007. Students have visited us from 43 schools, including those from Pasco, Pinellas, Hernando, Hardee, Polk, Duval, Citrus and Hillsborough counties.

Tours provide the primary revenue source to maintain the nearly 150 animals on our property. The public, including the immediate community of Citrus Park, have been consistently supportive of our mission, and we seek to give back to the community whenever possible. As such, the education department has hosted 19 free tours for a total of 357 people so far this year. The bulk of these visitors were children or adults who are cognitively, physically and emotionally challenged. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sponsored visits by the Children's Home for the last couple years. We also provided free services to other agencies that care for children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected. Please visit our sanctuary so that you can educate yourself and others about how to help stop the exploitation of these amazing creatures.

Beth Kamhi and Coleen Kremer, education directors, Big Cat Rescue, Tampa

Bringing real change

Sunday's cover story on Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue certainly had the elements of compelling drama: a cause, conflict, greed, lies, adultery, reinvention, mystery, rumor and innuendo. But isn't that all just a sideshow?

It seems that the main attraction is that the Baskins, together, have enough clout and savvy to force real change in the mostly seedy world of exotic cats. It is no surprise that some in that world are fighting to keep things the way they are.

Keith Criag, Tampa

Dedicated staff, volunteers

I have been a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue for almost two years, and I find there is a great deal of transparency there. No topic is off-limits, and no attempt is made to downplay mistakes of the past.

More important, I am consistently amazed by the dedication of the staff and the other volunteers toward improving the lives of exotic animals in captivity and helping their cousins in the wild. Big Cat Rescue is an organization made up of many individuals who are committed to these goals.

To anyone who might have concerns after reading the Times' coverage, I encourage you to visit Big Cat Rescue and see firsthand the work being done there.

Patricia Massard, Tampa

Tabloid trash

I am appalled and outraged that the Times has lowered itself to print rumors and innuendo denigrating Carole Baskin and the remarkable people at Big Cat Rescue. These people are among the few who truly care enough to give their time and money and make sacrifices to care for God's creatures, which should be given the dignity they so richly deserve. The comments of the detractors are so patently tainted with jealousy and ill-feeling that the Times should be ashamed to even quote them.

I am absolutely furious with the "tabloid" journalism in the Times.

Bonnie-Jean Creais, Oldsmar