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Pets are a very important part of our lives. One in six American households own a pet. Sixty percent of Americans think pet owners lead more satisfying lives than non pet-owners. From our personal experience, they would be right! We humans started forming a bond with animals many millennia ago. From being just a tool to make our existence a bit easier, like herding dogs, pets have now taken up the role of trusted friend and companion. The history of this bond goes back a long way. A gravesite in the Czech Republic unearthed a 31,000-year-old skeleton of a dog buried with a carefully placed bone in its mouth. This skeleton was found in a human graveyard. Perhaps it is romanticizing a bit, but maybe another human like us placed the bone and shed a few tears before throwing the first handful of dirt on their beloved friend. Over 50 studies in the last few decades have demonstrated the many health bene-fits of pets. Cat owners enjoy a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk. Watching fish swim lowers blood pressure, and stroking a dog boosts the immune system. Pets provide valuable services as helpers for the blind and disabled. On top of all these herculean tasks, they also work in prisons, nursing homes and women’s shelters providing compassion and healing. The list goes on. An excellent book, Made for Each Other, by Meg Olmert is a must read on this topic. These creatures give us so much in their short lives! We bear a significant responsibility to take care of them and give them a life full of care and joy. A wonderful guideline for animals in our care is called the “five freedoms:” freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, in-jury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.
This column will appear every other month. If you have a pet-related question of general interest, please write to Dr. G at PO Box 687, Geraldine, AL 35974.
Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.
Kay Ivey talks about economic development, the Census and Alabama’s ‘first dog’
by Minnie Lamberth
Alabama’s 54th governor was inaugurated unexpectedly in April 2017, yet she is a familiar figure as a state leader. Gov. Kay Ivey was in her second term as lieutenant governor when she was promoted to the state’s top job at the resignation of former Gov. Robert Bentley. She had previously held the office of state treasurer for two four-year terms. Early in her career, Ivey had served as reading clerk of the Alabama House of Representatives under Speaker Joseph C. McCorquodale, and was also assistant director of the Alabama Development Office. She ran unsucessfully for state auditor in the 1980s. Ivey later served as director of government relations and communications for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. Recently, Alabama Living sat down with Ivey in her office in the state capitol to discuss her current role.
Alabama Living: When you moved into the governor’s office, you talked about “steadying the ship of state.” Do you want to speak to some of the steps you have taken toward that end?
Ivey: Before I became governor, a dark cloud was over this state for quite a long time, and that dark cloud caused great un-certainty. Certainly it hindered progress in attracting new investments and creating employment opportunities. It hindered the process of just carrying out the routine business of the state. And it certainly hindered the focus that we should have had trying to find ways to provide opportunities for all Alabamians. So a dark cloud had been hanging over us. And I knew I had to get a handle on that and, quote, “steady the ship.” To me what we did to steady the ship was to be very methodical and deliberate as we evaluated each one of the cabinet positions. That took us some time because we want-ed to be very thorough, and deliberate, but that’s been done, and that’s a good thing. When I became governor, it was in the second half of the legislative session. But even so in that time I was able to support the Alabama Jobs Act. (Ivey signed legislation in May to extend the Alabama Jobs Act, which provides incentive packages for the state to lure businesses to Alabama.) We also supported ending the judicial override situation, so that whatever a jury decides is what prevails. Whether it’s the death penalty or life imprisonment, and that was a good thing. (Gov. Ivey signed a bill in April that ended a provision that was unique to Alabama that if a jury recommended life in prison, a judge could override the recommendation and impose the death penalty.) And then the autism bill, and the late Jim Patterson was the key person that kept that alive and moving it forward, and certainly we applaud Jim for his leadership on that. (The bill, sponsored by the late Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville, required certain health insurance plans to provide coverage for autism therapy.) So we’ve just had to work hard and use a lot of common sense to be sure that people felt better about the ship of state be-cause it was now going to be steadier, and we could start getting back on track.
Alabama Living: What are some signs that you are seeing that the ship is steadier?
Ivey:Some signs that it’s working can be seen with the investments that have been made in the state during the time I’ve been governor. We’ve had over $2 billion of investments. That’s the addition of some 5,000 new jobs and more on the way. We’ve had drops in the unemployment rate in each of the months I’ve been in office, and that’s a good sign. Since I’ve been governor, we’ve taken some actions to change the date of the next Senate race election. I simply followed the law, and the law said if there’s a vacancy in the Senate less than four months away from the next election, the governor shall call a special election forthwith. I appointed two Supreme Court justices – Lyn Stuart to be chief justice and Will Sellers to fill her vacancy. So we’ve been busy doing some things that needed to be done to give some direction and stability to the state.
Alabama Living: You’ve been involved in state government for many years, but the role of governor is surely unlike any other. Can you speak to an unexpected challenge or opportunity that you have faced?
Ivey:Well, every-thing was unexpected at the moment – because I wasn’t expect-ing things to play out like it did. Remember, most folks have three months to get ready for an administration; we had three hours. One of the opportunities certainly was that we had a vacancy in superintendent’s slot right after I got to be governor. We also had the ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, was due. It just was not complete. It was inconsistent. It had a lot of things in there that should not have been there in my view, and so I asked Secretary DeVos to grant us an extension, and she did, and I was proud to see that we were able to improve that plan substantially. We still have an opportunity to provide more amendments after the department reviews what has been sent. (ESSA was signed into law in December 2015 as a federal education law that re-places the No Child Left Behind Act. Ac-cording to the Alabama State Department of Education, the ESSA requires states to develop plans to close achievement gaps, increase equity of instruction and increase outcomes for all students.) We had the opportunity to issue an executive order that prevented the executive branch for naming lobbyists to boards and commissions – since lobbyists get paid for a particular viewpoint. Boards and com-missions are designed for citizen input. We disbanded a number of the Bentley task forces that had been created to study, study, study. We did keep the opioid crisis task force, but we have modified it and expanded the membership and included some folks that really need to be on that. That is a major crisis in this great state we’ve got to deal with.
Alabama Living: How has the transition been for you personally? How are you adjusting to being a public figure even when you’re at the grocery store, at church, at a shopping center, or other places where you used to go unobserved?
Ivey: Well, it’s for sure everywhere you go somebody’s going to see you and want to stop and talk, and that’s an OK thing. I just have to plan a little bit longer to go grocery shopping than I normally would. I have to plan a little bit longer to remain after church or whatever than I have be-fore. But that’s OK. I’m honored that folks recognize me and want to have a picture. Or they want to talk or share a concern. That’s a good thing. But yeah, you’re right. I’m meeting a lot of folks that I never would have previously. Now, my mug shot is out there, and people know me. It has certainly been an adjustment. I had to change houses.
Alabama Living: Did you move into the Governor’s Mansion?
Ivey: May 6 – me and Bear. Alabama’s got a first dog. (As the Auburn graduate explained why she would have a dog named, of all things, Bear, she told the story of how he had come to her as a hard-ship puppy. He had been injured by an automobile and was left at the same veterinarian Ivey used. After he had been treat-ed for his injuries, Ivey heard from the vet’s office.) They called me and said, “We think you’ve got a dog that you can’t live without.” They turned out to be right. After he’d been through all of that, I couldn’t change his name. So I just bought him an Auburn collar.
Alabama Living: Is the Governor’s Mansion comfortable for you and Bear?
Ivey: He’s learned to ride the elevator quite well. Mansion staff and orderlies are very fond of Bear, and he of them. They pay him a lot of attention. He has free run of the grounds and the mansion. So we’re both right at home. I still sit on the back porch at the mansion just like I sat on the back porch at my house.
Alabama Living: You’ve already alluded to some of the issues in state government. What are some of the issues that are of greatest concern to you and other state leaders? What are your concerns? What are the concerns that leaders are dealing with that are top of mind?
Ivey: Well, for me, one of the things that was missing before I took office was a strong working relationship between the executive office – the governor’s office – and the legislature. But I’m proud to say that we’ve made a big difference in that, and I’ve got a strong relationship with the leaders of the House and Senate and a lot of the members in both houses. Having a good working relationship so you can have open, transparent communications and under-standing with the legislative branch is important because the people of Alabama expect elected leaders to work together. Now we’re not always going to agree. But we can work together and find avenues and programs that we can work together on. That’s very definitely of advantage to the people of Alabama to get progress. Another concern that I have, and I’m trying to raise the issue across the state, is getting ready for the Census. The Census will occur in 2020, and while that seems like a long time away, it’s really not. Because now is the time to start getting prepared and be sure that all our people who, for example, have moved into new neighborhoods or new apartments or new condos or whatever that their addresses have been secured and sent to the Census coordinators in Alabama. ADECA is the state coordinator for the Census process, and already we have sent out letters to the mayors and county com-mission chairs advising them of the rules and the procedures they need to be under-taking now to get their roster current in Washington so Washington can send the form to everybody, and then it’s going to be key that everybody fills out a census. The reason it’s so important is, Census results determine how many Congress people you’re going to have. It also determines the federal funding you’ll get from the federal government for needed projects. And in Alabama now, while our population has been growing, it hasn’t been growing as fast as some of our sister states. So there’s a great chance that Alabama could lose a congressperson, and we certainly don’t need that. In addition, every town, every county and so much more depends on federal dollars coming in here. All of ADECA is funded with federal dollars. And if we have to lose a congress-person, it’s going to impact the amount of federal funding we get in this state. That is a serious, serious issue. So every Alabamian who is in this state needs to receive and complete a Census form. It will be sent in paper. So it’s not going to be something you can sit down and respond digitally to. It’s going to be imperative that people take the time to fill out the Census report. Future funding depends on it.
Alabama Living: Having grown up in Camden in Wilcox County, you’re a daughter of rural Alabama like many of the readers of Alabama Living. Can you speak to areas where state government is working to strengthen and support liv-ing and working in rural Alabama?
Ivey:You’re right, I’m definitely from LA, and that’s lower Alabama, and proud of it. In job creation, for example, some in-vestments and job creations are occurring even in our rural areas. For example, in Bibb County – Mercedes Benz has announced an expansion for Bibb. Dallas County is being strengthened by International Paper’s changing over their process to make a different product and putting in new equipment down in Selma. And so that’s a good stabilizing thing.Then there’s another firm in Jasper – Yorozu. The bottom line is as we continue to track investments, create more jobs, we want to take it to rural areas every time it’s possible. We also need to address broadband initiative throughout the state. (See related story on Page 18.) Along those lines, we did FirstNet – First Responders Network – that all first responders can have access just to that network whenever a crisis or need arises so they can have their own channel of communications, and so that’s a start in that direction. First Responders Network, I think, is some 30 towers that will be built. The U.S. Department of Commerce put out an RFP throughout the nation, and AT&T won that RFP to be the provider. Alabama will be the 24th state to opt in. AT&T then has the responsibility to build the towers, maintain and operate for the next 25 years. That’s separate from broadband, but it’s another good thing especially for rural Alabama, as well as everybody else that are first responders. Folks in rural areas are good folks and they’re hardworking. We need to do everything we can to help them have access to better opportunities.
When legislators gather Jan. 9 to convene for the 2018 regular session, they’ll enter the fourth year of a four-year term – or, in other words, an election year. During the last year of a quadrennium, says Senate Majority Leader Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, legislators usually “try to minimize the amount of conflict and maximize the amount of working together.”
Recognizing the influence of the election cycle, Reed highlights an area where the legislature would give paramount attention. “Number one, first and foremost, are going to be the budgets – the education budget as well as the general fund budget,” he says. The state’s budgets are always the top priority, but the process is expected to go easier this year.
Over his seven years in office, Reed says, “We have continuously struggled with both budgets because during that window of time Alabama as well as America has moved through the Great Recession. We’ve had very difficult circumstances related to having enough funding.” He notes that the state has cut right at a billion dollars out of the budgets during this period. In addition, “We have almost 5,000 fewer state employees than we had in 2008.”
This time around, however, legislators are seeing potential for stronger budgets, given improvements in revenue collection. “As a result, we are going to have a little bit of an easier time in trying to manage some of the budget issues,” Reed says.
House Majority Leader Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, echoes that sentiment. In his view, both the education trust fund, which supports public schools, higher education and related agencies, and the general fund, which supports non-education state functions, are going to be in pretty good shape.
“I’m excited about our education trust fund,” Ledbetter says. “The money’s where it needs to be with the economy improving, and that enables us to do some things we haven’t done in the past.”
During the last budget cycle, the legislature added around 150 schoolteachers in the state, and Reed hopes that addition continues. “If we have resource there where we can look at the potential of having additional teachers, especially math, science and special education, that’s going to be very important.” Reed notes that rural areas would be the focus of some of the growth in pre-K as well as increases in middle school teachers.
Compared to the education budget, the general fund budget has been more of a struggle in the past, Ledbetter says. But legislators had an opportunity to plan ahead. “Last year we set aside $93 million just to be fiscally responsible looking to the ’18 budget. Most of that was due to the one-time funding from the BP settlement.”
In 2015, Alabama officials announced a $2.3 billion settlement with BP Oil in response to the economic and environmental damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. A portion of those funds have been available to the general fund, including a distribution of $105 million to Medicaid for the current fiscal year.
Reed says carrying the $93 million forward took a lot of discipline but will help offset this coming budget. The Alabama Medicaid Agency will continue to receive a lot of discussion. The legislature is also expected to give attention to issues in the state’s prison system.
An increase in the number of state troopers is another topic of interest. The current budget added 30 new state troopers to Alabama highways. “I think there will be a move to do that again – to add additional state troopers in the coming budget if there’s additional resource there,” Reed says.
Having additional troopers on the road is important to rural Alabama, Reed says. “It’s not as much a concern in regards to having state police coverage in Birmingham or Huntsville as it is in a rural area like Fayette or Greene County.”
Among other issues, expanding broadband is a continuing concern for rural Alabamians. “I think that’s something that will come up in this session and certainly deserves a lot of debate,” Ledbetter says.
Broadband, Reed says, “may be just as important as roads and bridges and rivers and ports as we look at all of the elements that are associated with not only transferring goods and services but also transferring and managing data.”
Eyewitness recalls blast that demolished downtown Auburn
by Lindsay Penny
Jan. 15, 1978 was a quiet Sunday in downtown Auburn.
At that time, Auburn was a sleepy little village still on the cusp of the economic boom it would see years later.
The streets were empty as Jim Patterson, an Auburn student, made his way from his apartment on Thach Avenue to St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church on nearby Magnolia Avenue to catch the morning worship service.
A second later, he hit the ground.
At 8:13 a.m., the Kopper Kettle, a restaurant located in the heart of downtown Auburn, exploded due to a gas leak, taking out several neighboring businesses and shaking the town to its core. The blast left more than 70 businesses damaged, and one small town reeling.
“I immediately fell to the ground, and when I looked up, there were huge pieces of buildings so far up in the sky, I couldn’t believe it,” says Patterson.
After the dust settled, concerned for the well-being of the church congregation, Patterson made his way through the rubble to St. Dunstan’s.
The Rev. Rod Sinclair was preparing for the 8:30 a.m. service when the explosion happened, knocking him to his knees. He thought a small plane had crashed into the downtown area.
“It was just like the movies you see on TV where there is a big explosion, the building rocks and all the windows start moving around,” Patterson says. “It was just an incredible experience.”
Shortly after the explosion, chaos ensued as volunteers, police, firemen and state officials were on the scene to determine the cause of the explosion as they prepared for the worst, searching the rubble for fatalities.
Miraculously, there were none.
“A large part of the street was gone from the Kopper Kettle on down Magnolia,” says Patterson. “Many of the businesses had not opened yet, but there were students living in apartments above those businesses. That was the concern; nobody knew where they were at.”
Much to everyone’s relief, not a single person was killed that day and no life-threatening injuries were sustained. Students were away from their apartments, cars were halted at just the right stoplight, and churchgoers, like Patterson, were just beginning to emerge. The restaurant was closed at the time of the blast, according to a report by ABC News.
Investigators determined the gas leak blast was equivalent to multiple tons of TNT exploding.
Another witness, a Vietnam veteran, said that it was the most devastating aftermath he had witnessed since returning from the war.
“It’s a memory I’ll never forget,” says Patterson. “At that time in 1978, Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ was a big hit. I can say that I was rocked by the song and also by the Kopper Kettle.”
The Kopper Kettle made national headlines that night as word spread about the freak accident in a small Alabama town.
“We were all so grateful that there were no fatalities,” Patterson says. “Everyone in the community really came together that day. I’m so thankful Auburn was small and slow back then. If this had happened today, it would be a much different outcome.”
Two weeks after the explosion, at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Sinclair gave a sermon fittingly titled “Explosions,” recognizing the outpouring of camaraderie and grateful spirits exhibited in Auburn following the blast. Sinclair and his wife, Louise, now live in Charlottesville, Va.
By the early 1980s, the block was rebuilt and the evidence of the blast was gone.
The familiar greasy spoon that once stood on the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia Avenue did not make a return, but it will forever be remembered by Auburn students and residents.
In fact, shortly after the Kopper Kettle’s demise, an Auburn student wrote and recorded the local radio hit “The Kettle’s Gone,” a take-off on the country hit “The King is Gone.” Commemorative T-shirts were printed and sold, and Auburn graduates still recall exactly where they were the day of the Kopper Kettle explosion.ν
Editor’s note: Patterson is a retired diplomat with the U.S. Department of State and resides in Washington, D.C. He lived near the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and says as his windows shook from the plane crash, he thought back to that January day in 1978.