Friday, December 30, 2011

The legend of Roy Halladay grows

Since being traded to the Phillies in December 2009, Roy Halladay has become a folk hero.

In his first season with the team in 2010, he won 21 games -- including a perfect game against the Marlins -- and won the National League Cy Young Award. And, oh yeah, he threw a no-hitter against Cincinnati in his first post-season start.

This past season, he won 19 games and finished second for the Cy Young Award. His final game was a 1-0 loss to St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

So Halladay's been a larger-than-life figure for Phillies fans. That legend may grow after something that happened before Christmas.

According to the blog Zoo with Roy, Halladay, while on a fishing trip in the Amazon with professional angler Skeet Reese and others, saved a native boy from an anaconda attack.

Also on the trip was Halladay's best friend, St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter, who was the winning pitcher in Game 5.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UPDATE: Accounts question claim of chimp's owner

According to an Associated Press story, some accounts from Hollywood are questioning if the chimpanzee that died in Florida on Christmas Eve was indeed Cheetah, who was a sidekick to Tarazan in some movies in the 1930s.

Here is the new story:

A Florida animal sanctuary says Cheetah, the chimpanzee sidekick in the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s, has died at 80. But other accounts call that claim into question.

Debbie Cobb, outreach director at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary along Florida's Gulf Coast, said Wednesday that her grandparents acquired Cheetah around 1960 from "Tarzan" star Johnny Weissmuller and that the chimp appeared in Tarzan films between 1932 and 1934. During that period, Weissmuller made "Tarzan the Ape Man" and "Tarzan and His Mate."

But Cobb offered no documentation, saying it was destroyed in a 1995 fire.

Also, some Hollywood accounts indicate a chimpanzee by the name of Jiggs or Mr. Jiggs played Cheetah alongside Weissmuller early on and died in 1938.

In addition, an 80-year-old chimpanzee would be extraordinarily old, perhaps the oldest ever known. 

According to many experts and Save the Chimps, another Florida sanctuary, chimpanzees in captivity live to between 40 and 60. Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., has a chimp it says is around 73.

A similar claim about another chimpanzee that supposedly played Weissmuller's second banana was debunked in 2008 in a Washington Post story. Writer R.D. Rosen discovered that the primate, which lived in Palm Springs, Calif., was born around 1960, meaning it wasn't oldest enough to have been in the Tarzan movies of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Cobb said Cheetah died Dec. 24 of kidney failure and was cremated.

"Unfortunately, there was a fire in '95 in which a lot of that documentation burned up," Cobb said. "I'm 51 and I've known him for 51 years. My first remembrance of him coming here was when I was actually 5, and I've known him since then, and he was a full-grown chimp then."

More than one chimpanzee appeared as Cheetah in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and '40s.

Film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osbourne said the Cheetah character "was one of the things people loved about the Tarzan movies because he made people laugh. He was always a regular fun part of the movies."

In his time, the Cheetah character was as popular as Rin Tin Tin or Asta, the dog from the "Thin Man" movies, Osbourne said.

"He was a major star," he said.

At the animal sanctuary, Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger painting and liked to see people laugh, Cobb said. But he could also be ill-tempered. Cobb said that when the chimp didn't like what was going on, he would fling feces and other objects.

Chimp from 'Tarzan' movies in 1930s dies

I should know that primates live long lives, but I was still surprised to read this morning that Cheetah, the chimpanzee sidekick from the Johnny Weismuller "Tarzan" movies from the 1930s, died recently at the age of 80. That's a long life, even for a chimp!

AP Photo
Cheetah, with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and
Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.
Cheetah died on Christmas Eve of kidney failure, the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Fla., announced.

Here's the rest of the Associated Press story:

Sanctuary outreach director Debbie Cobb on Wednesday told The Tampa Tribune ( ) that Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger painting and liked to see people laugh. She says he seemed to be tuned into human feelings.

Based on the works of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Tarzan stories, which have spawned scores of books and films over the years, chronicle the adventures of a man who was raised by apes in Africa.

Cheetah was the comic relief in the Tarzan films that starred American Olympic gold medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. Cobb says Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller's estate sometime around 1960.

Cobb says Cheetah wasn't a troublemaker. Still, sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest says that when the chimp didn't like what was going on, he would throw feces.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Animals make news at live Nativity scenes

A couple of interesting news items happened over the Christmas weekend involving live Nativity scenes.

First, a goat in Minnesota fled the scene from a Nativity at Bethlehem Church in Fergus Falls, Minn. The 3-year-old Angora goat escaped its leash on Christmas Eve afternoon and remained on the lam on Monday.

The goat's owner said he tried to chase the animal for two hours, but a lack of snow made tracking it difficult.

There was some happier news Christmas Eve involving a Nativity display at The Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati.

There, the conservatory reports, a night watchman oversaw the delivery for a sheep that was part of the live animal display. Officials say the birthing went well and the mother and lamb were doing fine.

 Officials said they may name the female lamb "Merry."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hard to keep a good Lab down

My black Labrador Disney -- wearing a cone
because of her knee surgery -- lays in the yard.
Disney poses for a photo after getting a bath
months before her knee surgery.

For the past eight weeks, my wife Sharon and I have been health care workers. But we weren’t providing care to an ill child, or comfort to a relative. No, our patient has been our 10-year-old black Labrador, Disney.

In early October, Sharon and I were walking our two dogs when Disney lunged toward a pack of dogs that was being walked on the other side of the street and suddenly started limping on her right rear leg. Naturally, we were at the farthest point from our house, so I walked back home with the other dog to get the car to return and pick up Sharon and Disney.

The next day I took Disney to the vet. The diagnosis was a cruciate ligament tear. I was surprised, but apparently this injury is very common among Labradors, especially aging ones.

A few days later Disney had an appointment with an orthopedic specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis and set up a time for surgery to fix “the football injury,” as he called it. The surgery went well, but the doctor also found severe arthritis in the knee. I felt a little sad when Disney was brought out wearing a plastic cone around her head to keep her from picking at her sutures and with her right hind quarter shaved.

We received a long list of discharge instructions to help Disney in her recovery, among them changing her diet, limiting walks to “elimination” only, and keeping her confined — for 8 weeks!!!

That last one was going to be a little difficult for a dog that has had the run of the house for the past 10 years. The surgeon wanted us to keep Disney in a room about the size of a doctor’s examination room. But living in a two-story townhome, there are no small rooms on the first floor.

So we had to make do. We have some paneling in the basement, so we used a piece or two as a divider between the living and dining rooms. And to aid the “elimination” process, my dad built a ramp out of plywood to put on the deck so Disney could avoid using the steps.

For the first week of Disney’s recovery, I slept on a couch in the living room. No, I wasn’t in the dog house. But Sharon and I agreed that was probably best to keep Disney from whimpering. The patient also needed pain medication three times a day, and one of those times was usually around 2 a.m. — or whenever I woke up in the middle of the night.

But after that first week we needed another confinement plan. Disney learned that by using her cone, she could move the paneling and walk around downstairs. So we borrowed some baby fencing from our oldest daughter and set up a small pen for Disney in the dining room.

Her recovery was going well. Two weeks after the procedure, she returned to the surgeon to get the sutures out and lose the “cone of shame.”

But free of the cone, Disney was again using her ingenuity to get out of her confinement. She realized that if she put her nose on the floor, she could lift the pen and crawl underneath. It was a bit surprising to come home from work some nights and see that Disney had escaped. This happened so many times, we called her “HouDisney.”

I know she didn’t understand why she had to be confined, and probably thought she was being punished. But it’s not like I could talk to the patient and tell her about the recovery process.

Another two weeks passed quietly and a first set of X-rays on the repaired knee showed good progress. But then the surgeon said something that caused me a lot of angst: because her knee was healing, Disney would want to be more active and therefore her confinement had to be more strict.
He wasn’t kidding. The past four weeks have not been easy.

We used dining room chairs as clamps to keep Disney from getting out of the makeshift pen, but that didn’t stop her. She still managed to escape a few times. The issue was especially bad when we went to bed and Disney had to stay downstairs. For a couple nights in a row, we could hear the rustling of Disney trying to get out.

In one instance, Sharon went downstairs to scold Disney and saw her trying to CLIMB out of the pen. That was the last straw. So at 10:30 on this particular night, we were at Walmart buying a crate for our ornery patient. Disney didn’t like being crated, but we had to keep her as confined as possible. So close to the end of her recovery, we didn’t want her to screw up the surgery.

Being the stubborn old lady that she is, Disney hasn’t gone in the crate willingly. We’ve had to put a leash on her, then walk her into the crate. But she gets something out of it, because the only way Sharon or I could get her to move was when we said “treat.”

Disney’s final X-rays were scheduled for Saturday. To be honest, when we’ve been home we haven’t kept her totally confined. On Thanksgiving, she was walking around a lot as we entertained a house full of people, and she’s also climbed the stairs once or twice over the past 10 days.

She seems to be recovering nicely. Disney’s moving around about as well as she did before her injury — with a slight limp — so I expect the X-rays to show she is nearly healed. And based on inquiries from our neighbors, Disney’s been missed my many.

Our work isn’t done, however. Next are weeks of rehabilitation as we have to build up the strength in Disney’s injured leg. I only hope the rehab process is a little less aggravating than her recovery.

Mike Spohn is The Mercury’s Sunday editor. You can e-mail him at, or follow him on Twitter @Merc_Mike.