Column: Heard Around the West

Oh, to be a stray in San Francisco, where a software billionaire's gift has made animal homelessness a Cinderella experience. Once picked up from the streets, cats, for example, move to a loft where they can choose to watch mice run on television or loll on top of a six-foot climbing tree. Piped-in air to their apartments guarantees animals that smell sweet and clean. This cat and dog heaven exists because David Duffield, founder of the software company PeopleSoft, donated $1 million to create Maddie's Pet Adoption Center, named for the philanthropist's late miniature schnauzer. Rule number one: No animals retrieved from the streets are killed, and anyone considering adoption gets wooed with incentives such as a year of free pet food. Not everyone thinks this strategy can work elsewhere, though what everyone applauds is the center's aggressive neuter and spay policy, reports the Baltimore Sun.

An animal lover who said she'd "do anything to help animals" apparently caused four cars to collide in Tucson, Ariz., reports the Arizona Daily Star. Amanda Valencia wasn't doing much when the fender-bender occurred, nor was she wearing much except shoes and bikini briefs. She was in front of Park Place Mall, protesting the sale of leather.

What do you do with 33 obsolete computer monitors? Why, dump them on public land, of course! That's what Doug Cannon, a computer instructor at western Colorado's Delta-Montrose Vocational Technical School, did in October. He was caught after a hiker on Bureau of Land Management land spotted the scattered monitors, all labeled with property tags and numbers from the federal Department of Energy in Grand Junction. The agency had donated the monitors to the school eight years ago. Confessing his "bad lapse of judgment," the teacher said he'd taken the monitors out of a school dumpster and onto publicly owned land so he could blow them away with firearms. Too late: Someone else had come by with a gun and shot out all the screens. Judge Jim Robb sentenced Cannon to pay a fine of $175 and work for 16 hours cleaning up old dump sites on public lands. He also asked the computer teacher, who is 39, to submit a report to the BLM detailing how to reach high schoolers with a message to deter and prevent this tragedy.

Four cows trapped by snowfall this November high up at the Aspen Highlands ski resort found they could co-exist with snowboarders and skiers just fine. The cows discovered hay strewn near a high-speed quad chair so there was plenty for them to munch on, and as ski patrol director Mac Smith put it, "They're not your normal bovine that you find out in the high country that's fat and lazy. These are pretty athletic animals - the Michael Jordans of cows." It took four top skiers, three cowboys on horses, a snowcat, a lift operator and two herd dogs to begin moving the reluctant cows toward a black diamond run with 35- to 40-degree slopes. Three were captured at the bottom, but one sly cow managed to hide itself in "real gnarly country," reports the Denver Post. When last seen, the lone cow was still high on the mountain, at home with the beautiful people.

And from Grand Junction, Colo., came this suggestion from one of the angry Republicans rallying at city hall for the immediate designation of George W. Bush as president. "Since it's hunting season," Bob Burkholder told the Daily Sentinel, "it would be nice if we could get a permit for Democrats." A letter-writer to the Grand Junction paper afterward blasted Burkholder's proposal as evidence of a "Ku Klux Klan mentality."

Exploits profiled in the National Geographic usually have an environmental bent; not so for some of the ads. One full-page advertisement for a Hummer shows the blocky vehicle fording a river up to its headlights. "Go places and do things impossible in any other wheeled vehicle," reads the ad, while the Web site for the rip-it-up car is hummer.com/bridges-are-for-mortals. Which reminds us of Charles Potts' "Sport Utility Poem" in his quarterly magazine, The Temple, based in Walla Walla, Wash:

We're in trouble.

Car Trouble

America had a love affair with the automobile

And got knocked up.

Now these little metal bastards are everywhere.

And here's another bumper sticker: "Leaving town? Take a developer with you."

Betsy Marston is the editor of High Country News (www.hcn.org), which has covered the American West for the past 30 years. She can be reached at HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.

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