A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Think Global, Donate Local

Have you seen those heartbreaking commercials for the ASPCA (short for American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals) featuring pictures of abandoned cats and dogs as Sarah McLachlan sings "In The Arms of An Angel?" Makes you want to whip out that checkbook and send them a donation, doesn't it?
Well, go ahead. It's a very worthy organization. But if you think any of that money is going to filter down to local animals, think again.
That's because the ASPCA, despite the "American" in its title, is simply the New York society. It gets to put "American" before the name because it was the first SPCA in the country. It is not – repeat, not – an umbrella organization for SPCAs all over the country, including the East Bay SPCA.
If you send the ASPCA a donation you'll be helping some very deserving cats and dogs in New York. But if you want your dough to go to animals closer to home, you'll have to contribute to a local organization.
Same for the HSUS, the Humane Society Of The United States. It's a lobbying organization in Washington. DC, that operates no shelters of its own. And it has no – repeat, no – connection to humane societies across the country that do operate shelters, such as the Berkeley Humane Society. Again, if you want your money to do some good here, you'll have to contribute directly to a local organization.
So what's the difference between an SPCA and a humane society? Answer: nothing. They're both private adoption agencies for homeless cats and dogs that cooperate closely with their respective city shelters.
They are supplemented by local rescue groups, such as Island Cat Resources & Adoption, Fix Our Ferals, Hopalong, Muttville, Home At Last, Furry Friends Rescue, Community Concerned For Cats, Rocket Dog Rescue, San Francisco Bay Area Dog Rescue, and Adopt A Dog, as well as breed-specific dog and cat rescue groups. These organizations deserve our support, too.
                                          * * *
 Finally, a fond farewell to James Garner, television's first anti-hero. In an era when westerns dominated the airwaves and every other actor was trying to be John Wayne lite, his character, Brett Maverick, was a charming rogue who did everything he could to avoid getting into a fistfight, let alone a shootout. In the stolid, button-down 1950s, that was a breath of fresh air.
 I still remember the dilemma I faced every Sunday night: Should I watch "Maverick" on ABC or Ed Sullivan on CBS?
Solution: I tuned in to the first 30 seconds of" Maverick" to see if that week's episode was going to be about Brett (Garner) or his brother Bart (Jack Kelly). If it was Brett, I watched "Maverick." If it was Bart, I would groan and immediately switch over to Sullivan.
Garner played variations on that character for the rest of his career, most notably on "The Rockford Files" and in two World War II movies – "The Great Escape," in which he played the scrounger, of course, and "The Americanization of Emily, which paired him hilariously with Julie Andrews at her earnest do-gooder best.
He was also one of the greatest Raiders fans of all time. I can't remember a game during the team's heyday in the 1970s when he wasn't on the sidelines cheering them on.

Remembering the Earl of Berkeley

The Earl of Berkeley has died.
That's the nickname a sportswriter for the old Berkeley Gazette gave Earl Robinson when he was a multi-sport star at Berkeley High in the early 1950s.
But Robbie, as his friends called him, was a Berkeley legend long before he got to high school. Growing up in West Berkeley in the late 1940s, he was the best sandlot player at San Pablo Park, where he earned a reputation for protecting smaller children from bullies.
After high school he moved on to Cal, where, as captain of the basketball team, he led the Bears to conference titles in 1956, '57 and '58. He was named to the All-Coast team twice and the all-conference team three times.
But to him, those accolades paled compared to the Most Inspirational Player award his teammates voted him in senior year. Joe Kapp, who played on both the football and basketball team, said, "Robbie was like our older brother."
Guard Denny Fitzpatrick adds, "I got off to a slow start one year. Robbie took me aside and said, 'Look, Denny. You can play in this league; you just have to look for your shots.' That really turned it around for me, and I ended up having a pretty good year. He was clearly our leader. Everybody looked up to him."
But as good as he was at hoops, he was even better on the baseball diamond. In 1957 he batted .352 and led the Bears to the NCAA championship.
After graduating in 1958 he played for the Dodgers and Orioles for seven years. Then he embarked on his true vocation as a teacher - first at Cal as assistant basketball coach, then at Merritt College as the first African American head coach in the California junior college system. He later moved to Laney College, then returned to Cal as freshman basketball coach.
He made a real difference in the lives of countless younger athletes, including Rickey Henderson, whose acceptance speech he helped write for the baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
He later taught speech and communications at Castlemont High, worked with the Oakland A's as director of special projects, was vice president of the Oakland Zoo's board of trustees, and served on the Alameda County Grand Jury and the board of directors of the Cal Alumni Association, South Berkeley YMCA, Oakland Police Athletic Association YMCA, and the Oakland Boys and Girls Club.
Last fall he was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, but with his Medicare hospice coverage running out, there was no way to pay his mounting bills.
So his teammates passed the hat and raised the money. To a man, they said it was payback for everything he had done for them.
Robbie met his death the same way he lived his life: with dignity.
"I'm not sad," he said. "My doctors have been straight up with me. I'm probably dying. I'm not ready to give it up yet; but when I do, I'm cool with that."
He died peacefully on July 4, full of love and gratitude. His best friend, Pete Domoto, a guard on the 1958 football team, emailed Robbie's teammates, "Earl died on Independence Day. He soars with the eagles. We will keep him close to our hearts."
It was a classy exit for a classy man.