Breeding Ground

Pebbles spent eight years bearing litters at a Minnesota puppymill, before being sold at the Ohio Dog Auction. Photo by Konstantin Vasserman.

We’ve got three ‘02-model females,” the auctioneer began.

A seated crowd of bonnets and wide-brim hats peered down into the auction pit, where three small white dogs stood on a rug-covered table. A teenage boy held each one in place.

Auction lots 73-75, three Bichon Frises registered under the names Mandy, Crystal, and Pebbles, were shaking.

Maybe they felt cold, or maybe they felt scared. It was a January morning, their curls had been shorn off and until that moment they had been tasked with bearing litters of puppies in a large breeding facility known for its small cages, where they had probably never felt so many human eyes upon them.

Mandy’s ears froze into an odd crimp, as the auctioneer announced the starting price for her. There were no takers. The price dropped, then dropped again several times, and he gave up. Crystal, a runt, fared the same. The third, Pebbles, whose short legs bowed awkwardly around her tomato-shaped body, fetched a single bid: $5.

The three mothers were among 301 dogs who rode 900 miles last January inside cage-stacked semi tractor-trailer trucks, from Clearwater Kennel in Cushing, Minn., to the Farmerstown Sale Barn in the Amish town of Baltic, Ohio.

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Sittenfeld’s Journey from Journalism to City Hall

Photo by Cameron Knight

In preparing to interview newly elected Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, I was repeatedly visited by the temptation to ask him, “Are you as squeaky-clean as you seem?”

I listened to him, then 25 years old, deliver a bright-eyed, five-minute distillation of a book he was writing on happiness, onstage at the Know Theatre. Later that year he began to frequent a café where I worked.  He was impeccably warm, courteous and dapper as I served his business lunches and coffee, and I wondered what he was all about.

For one thing, I find, Sittenfeld is all about writing. If any hint of a dark side reveals itself, it’s while he scrambles to think of a character from literature that he identifies with.

“Oh, man … I think it’s one of those things where, you know, you fall in love with characters despite their imperfections sometimes,” he muses, giving a shout-out to John Milton’s imagining of a certain charismatic underworld figure in his 1667 epic poem, Paradise Lost. 

After more thought, he decides on someone less controversial: James of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

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What the Frack? ~ opposition to “fracking” surges after tremors

Illustration by Rebecca Sylvester for CityBeat

A series of 12 unusual earthquakes in northern Ohio reached a 4.0 magnitude on New Year’s Eve, shaking homes in Youngstown and intensifying nationwide opposition to fracking, a controversial natural gas extraction process.

John Armbruster, a Columbia University seismologist hired by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), located the quakes’ epicenters near the base of a wastewater injection well operated by D&L Energy. One of 177 injection wells in Ohio, this one was greasing the palms of a previously unknown fault line, by pumping gas industry wastewater right into it.

In response to the finding, Gov. John Kasich suspended injections at that well and at four inactive sites in the same area.

Those injection wells dispose of wastewater generated by fracking wells, whose job it is to extract natural gas by blasting pressurized slurries of water, chemicals and sand into ancient shale formations, thousands of feet below ground.

Although it hasn’t been known to cause earthquakes, fracking — or horizontal hydraulic fracturing — creates its own problems. Ask Thelma Payne.

Ms. Payne, now 88, and her husband Richard Payne, 91, were asleep in their bed one night in December 2007, when an explosion in their basement blew their Geauga County home straight off its foundations. The couple bounced up and landed safely back on their mattress; the house landed back on its foundation, but was damaged beyond repair.

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Stopping Unnecessary Roughness ~ local group monitors national animal research

Michael Budkie has lasted 15 years in a career most people wouldn’t touch with a pooper-scooper: He studies the day-to-day life stories of animals stuck in laboratory experiments.

SAEN co-founders Karen and Michael Budkie. Photo courtesy of Dina Kourda

“That’s not exactly the Sunday comics,” says the 52-year-old from Milford, who has a degree in Animal Health Technology from the University of Cincinnati, and another in Theology from Xavier University.

After poring through medical histories and U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, Mr. Budkie, his wife Karen Budkie, 52, and a small investigative team comprising the nonprofit Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) aim their stones at several Goliaths of American industry.

Their goals: Hold accountable the defense, pharmaceutical and medical industries for their violations of the Animal Welfare Act. And let the public know what happens in animal labs.

In October SAEN unearthed records showing that a dozen musk oxen had died of starvation at a University of Alaska research facility. And last month the group released a list of the 20 U.S. research facilities that subject the greatest number of animals to painful experiments without anesthesia. In the middle of this list is Battelle Memorial Institute, a Columbus-based nonprofit company that does contract work for the Department of Defense (DOD), among others.

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What is zooethnography?

Foam-rubber animals filled Ortekay Square in Istanbul, Turkey last year, in a public art project inspired by the feral dogs & cats, gulls, & dolphins who share the city.

Last night I felt I had begun to understand the nascent, boundary-straining field of zooethnography.   Having traveled to Sweden’s old university town of Uppsala for a conference on it four days earlier, I met separately with organizer Jacob Bull and presenting scholar Eva Hayward, to help answer some lingering questions.

Both of them are members of the “HumAnimal” group at Uppsala University’s Center for Gender Research–a group which over the past year has embraced the term and field of zooethnography, and begun to define its challenges.

Zooethnography, Hayward explained, is the study of how animals shape human-animal encounters.  Like traditional ethnographers, who study human cultures, zooethnographers study these encounters in light of the cultural environments in which they occur–like a particular research lab, city park, or farm.

On Monday Hayward presented one such study, Migrations of Light: Whale songs and Photographs, in which she proposed an understanding of how humpback whales affected a group of human researchers in Maine, through photographs of the whale’s flukes.

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Piatt Park Occupiers Arrested, Tents Dismantled

Screen shot of protestors at Piatt Park, shortly before 1am on October 21. Livestream at

After midnight this morning, Cincinnati police arrested about twenty members of Occupy Cincinnati before a crowd of several hundred supporters, according to eyewitnesses.

The growing group of residents had been demonstrating against a system of “corporate welfare”–exemplified by the bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009–that they say tramples the interests of 99 percent of the U.S. population, while catering to the demands of the wealthiest and most politically influential one percent.

About twenty members of the non-violent, democratically-run group were arrested and their tents dismantled, four days after the movement filed a federal injunction against the City for the $105 tickets repeatedly issued to each occupier, nightly since the demonstration began.

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Scholars clarify activists’ paths

Readers, my apologies: technical problems prevented me from posting the following jottings last night.  I’ve decided to remain here in Uppsala, Sweden for a few days after the current conference ends, to catch you up on my findings.  Thanks for sticking around!  From yesterday:

Horses driven through Prague with a tourist carriage

I am rolling out of Dresden on a quiet train, halfway between Prague’s ICAS conference on “Reconfiguring the ‘Human’/’Animal’ Binary” and Berlin, where I’ll spend a night before flying to Sweden for tomorrow’s “Zooethnographies” papers.  It has been a gorgeous weekend, filled with sun and busty wood pigeons.

In the old, wood-and-light-filled Faculty of Arts at Prague’s Charles University, most of the 50+ presenters directly addressed the meeting’s theme: finding more nuanced and constructive new ways to look at human-animal relationships.

Existing “binary” notions like master-pet, hunter-quarry, consumer-resource, and intellectual-instinctual, were dismantled or dismissed for many of the same reasons that Gender Studies scholars have fought against the limitations wrought by using crude dichotomies like “virgin/whore” to define a person.

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