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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Animal attractions

THE choice among candidates for our annual Animals of the Year list is always difficult.

It was made more complicated in 2007 by the fact that Clementine, the basset hound of The Blade's co-publisher and editor-in-chief, gave birth to a litter of cute pups, one of which became a canine ambassador to Italy when transported to her new owner there.

The editorial board, nonetheless, after considerable deliberation, arrived at the following list of outstanding nonhuman actors of the past year.

First place must go to the race horse, Barbaro. The Kentucky Derby victor had injured himself badly at the Preakness and in January, 2007, lost the long, heroic struggle that he and the veterinarians had waged to bring about his recovery. Millions of Americans followed Barbaro's treatment and lamented his passing after he was put to sleep.

Second place belongs to Tatiana, a 300-lb., 4-year-old Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. In a short-lived bid to become a "free-range" tiger, Tatiana jumped a wall last month, killed one person, and wounded two others. Zoo personnel sought to tranquilize her, but San Francisco police shot Tatiana dead. Controversy continues to surround the question of the adequacy of the cat's confines at the zoo.

Closer to home, three female African elephants, Petal, Kallie, and Bette, arrived in western Pennsylvania from Philadelphia in April to meet Jackson, a bull elephant, for eventual romance at the Pittsburgh zoo's new breeding ground in Somerset County.

Right here, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's Labrador retriever, Scout, was a soothing counterpoint to his master's volatility, emitting nary a growl when left in the mayor's sport-utility vehicle on a sultry August afternoon and proving an affable host at the recent "Holiday View from 22."

Easily the richest animal of the year was Trouble, the Maltese terrier of longtime hotelier Leona Helmsley. She left him $12 million in her will. She left two of her grandchildren nothing, saying they would know why. (They wouldn't sit up and beg?)

Not an animal of such means but one that made headlines just the same was Winter, a frail and dehydrated 3-month-old dolphin that lost her tail in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral, Fla. Vets worked to give her a prosthetic tail and then taught her to swim with it. Now that's progress.

Similarly in doubt was the fate of two humpback whales, Delta and Dawn, after they got stuck last May, 90 miles up the Sacramento River in California. After careful human monitoring, they eventually made it back to the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, one animal saga took on religious significance as Shambo the Bull, resident at a Hindu shrine in Wales in the United Kingdom, contracted bovine tuberculosis and had to be euthanized.

Hindus considered Shambo to be sacred and the residents of the monastery that housed him were very upset to see him go.



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