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Woof Woof

By Frank J. Gruber

Last Thursday the LA Times in a "Column One" piece ran a story about wolves in Yellowstone Park and the people -- "wolfies" -- who watch them. The article focused on a particular female, known as Cinderella, who recently died at the teeth of the wolves of a competing pack.

The article described how Cinderella, known officially to scientists as 42, the number of her radio collar, got her nickname because of brutal treatment she received at the paws (and jaws) of an older sister, who was then the alpha female of the "Druid Peak Pack."

Big Sis, after driving her mother and another sister from the pack, focused her hellacious desire to have only her DNA passed on to the next generation on Cinderella. She persecuted the younger wolf, "leaving scars and bloody wounds." When Cinderella had a litter of pups, the pups disappeared -- presumably destroyed by you know who.

But out in the wide Lamar Valley, near the border between Wyoming and Montana, Big Sis ran into what can only be called frontier justice: "A year later, after more beatings and the birth of another litter, the domineering sister visited Cinderella's den one evening. This time, she met a whirlwind of violent resistance. Cinderella's 6-week-old pups survived; the alpha female did not."

Cinderella ultimately became the alpha female of her pack, ruling for four years with the alpha male, known to scientists as "21."

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone has been a great thing, and certainly the wolfies have been a great help to scientist studying wolf behavior. Along the way, it's not surprising that the wolfies tend to identify with the wolves.

"'We've been infatuated with wolves since we were young,' said Carol, a medical technologist when she's not watching wolves. 'We persecuted the wolf for so long and yet they're playful, intelligent and devoted to their families.'"

"Devoted to their families." Hmmm... Well, I guess. I mean maybe. I mean maybe if we're not including collateral relations in "family" and if "devoted" means driving off your mother and sisters and killing your nieces and nephews.

Or perhaps when Carol said "families" she was relating the wolves at the top of wolf society with prominent families from human history, such as the House of Atreus, or the Richard III family, or the Borgias.

Let's face it. Anthropomorphizing animals is weird, and I'm not talking about Bugs Bunny.

It's one thing to talk to your dog, but expecting your dog to think like you is...

Well, it's a bad idea. For one thing, it puts a lot of pressure on the dog.

Coincidentally, the Times ran the wolf story the same day The Lookout ran a story about how the Santa Monica City Council, in a 3-2 vote, fought off efforts by an organization called In Defense of Animals (IDA) to change references to "pet owner" in the municipal code to "pet guardian." ("What's in a Name," March 11)

As you might imagine, significant anthropomorphizing occurred at the meeting. Jerry Rubin, normally Santa Monica's great well of common sense, compared his cats with children, and said he was "like their parents." "Having a cat or a dog," he said, "is not the same as owning a television set."

Agreed, a cat is not a television set. And a child is not a television set.

But that doesn't mean a cat is a child.

I watched the debate on TV, and although I don't have much to add to The Lookout's account, I want to commend Mayor Richard Bloom and council members Herb Katz and Ken Genser for not getting caught up in the sentimentality of the whole pet thing.

Mayor Bloom was especially good, because he saw how the seemingly cute and benign "guardian" issue was in fact an edge issue, an attempt to push public opinion down, or at least toward, a slippery slope.

The mayor was, in fact, more circumspect than he needed to be. If you go to IDA's website [] you'll learn that IDA operates on the fringe of legality, just across the line from radical animal rights organizations that destroy property, ruin scientific experiments, harass animal control officials (in Santa Monica, for instance), and otherwise do things that show animals can be dumb but it takes a human to be really stupid.

IDA's agenda is to change our cultural attitudes toward animals to accord them legal rights, and removing the concept of ownership from humanity's relationship to domestic animals is part of that process.

This might be okay, except that once they turn us all into vegetarians, they're going to turn on the wolves and tell them to stop ripping each other apart and preying on sickly moose, and that would be violating their rights to be wolves.

* * *

I have also been reading the stories The Lookout has run recently about the first post-mortems on the Transit Mall, and I don't have much to add to the debate beyond recommending the letter Lookout-reader Allen Freeman wrote. ("LETTERS: Thumbs Up for Transit Mall," March 11)

Except that it never ceases to surprise me how people blame traffic on streets. Bayside District Chair John Warfel and Bayside consultant Rob York say in one of the Lookout articles that the reduction of traffic lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard has a "negative" effect on traffic flow, creating a "bottleneck."

Wait a minute. Is traffic caused by streets or by cars? And aren't all the cars coming down Santa Monica Boulevard because Messrs. Warfel and York and their colleagues have done such a good job of turning downtown into an attractive place for people who want drive down, park their cars and walk around? Didn't we have traffic congestion before we built the transit mall?

Put up all the new signs you want, on streets and parking structures, and, please, start giving tickets to drivers who block intersections and crosswalks, but the Bayside District will know it has a problem the day there isn't a backup on Santa Monica Boulevard.
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