Montana Editorial Roundup
Missoulian, Nov. 28, on Montana needing to crack down on puppy mills:
When the Montana Legislature convenes again in January, legislators will have another crack at passing a measure that should have been passed years ago. This time, they must finally take action to stop abusive animal breeding operations.
As it stands, Montana has almost no ability to regulate so-called “puppy mills” — large-scale pet breeders whose inhumane practices often result in unhealthy animals sold to unsuspecting buyers. Sadly, western Montanans have witnessed in recent years, in one county after another, too many unscrupulous breeders who prioritized profit over the care of their animals.
When it reaches the point where law enforcement must step in and seize the animals, taxpayers are put on the hook to cover all costs associated with feeding and housing them and providing veterinary care.
The Montana Cost of Care Act would provide some relief for taxpayers by requiring the owners of confiscated animals to post a bond covering the costs of their care. The Montana Association of Counties recently passed a resolution in support of it.
However, if past legislative sessions are any indication, the proposal faces an uphill battle. And it only touches on one side of this pervasive problem.
Legislators should muster up the compassion — if not for the animals, then for their taxpaying constituents — to pass this act. But they should also take a hard look at banning those abominable breeding operations known as puppy mills, which would do a lot to help cut the costs of caring for seized animals by preventing animal abuse from happening in the first place.
Sen. Daniel Salomon, R-Ronan, has requested a bill draft to take up the cost issue, following in the footsteps of Missoula Democrat Sen. Tom Facey and Wilsall Republican Sen. Nels Swandal, who proposed similar bills in past sessions only to see them shot down — along with prior attempts to hold large-scale pet breeders accountable. In the most recent session, both Reps. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, and Greg Hertz, R-Polson, offered sensible bills that would have required commercial dog and cat breeders who operate on a large scale to be licensed and subject to regular inspections. Violators would be fined, and persistent violators shut down. Both of their bills were killed in committee.
Any new bills are likely to be met with ongoing opposition from the Montana Stockgrowers Association no matter how many special exemptions are carved out to reassure its members that their industry will not be affected. Remember, a majority of states already have similar laws in place, including cattle states like Texas.
Allowing bad breeders to stay in business is not only cruel, it does a disservice to all the good breeders in Montana whose reputations should not be sullied by the horror stories of sick and starved cats, dogs, birds and horses. And county taxpayers should not have to come up with thousands of dollars to cover unexpected food and veterinary bills for dozens of poorly treated animals.
Montana law currently allows for a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both, for animal cruelty convictions. But a $1,000 fine would barely cover a day’s worth of care for the dozens of animals removed from a single operation.
Last year, Flathead County rescued 37 dogs and four miniature horses from one property. One of the dogs had to be euthanized immediately, but the rest of the animals received the veterinary care they needed to recover at the Flathead County Animal Shelter.
The year before, more than 120 animals — including six donkeys, 53 poodles and 60 parakeets — were seized from a suspected puppy mill in Lincoln County.
And the year before that, 130 small-breed dogs were rescued from a puppy mill in Lake County.
This will continue happening — and Montanans will continue paying — until our legislators get serious about stopping it.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Nov. 27, on George Keremedjiev and the American Computer Museum:
Back when the American Computer Museum was still in its formative stages at an earlier location from where it sits how, who should cross its threshold but Neil Armstrong. George Keremedjiev, who founded the museum with his wife Barbara, took it in stride that the first person to walk on the moon should want to see his burgeoning collection of technological artifacts.
That’s the kind of visitor the museum has been known to attract.
George Keremedjiev passed away recently from complications from heart surgery. Though he is gone, his contributions to preserving the history of the information age will live on, as will the legacy he leaves behind here in Bozeman. His museum has become a draw for technophiles worldwide. The banquets he arranged for his George R. Stibitz awards attracted the likes of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and renowned biologist and author E.O. Wilson.
Far more than just the founder of a highly regarded museum, Keremedjiev was a sort of modern renaissance man, with a love for music and all things scientific. He came to the United States from Venezuela with his Russian-born parents at the age of 10 and unable to speak English but went on to graduate valedictorian of his high school class. He had a successful technical and training consulting business that gave him the freedom to live where he wanted. To our great good fortune, he chose Bozeman.
He didn’t let his busy professional life interfere with his passion — the history of human communication. He tirelessly sought out and acquired things ranging from a page from Shakespeare’s original folios to telegrams sent between Civil War generals to a guidance computer for the Apollo space program.
More than just a tourist stop, the now-named American Computer & Robotics Museum attracts scholars and industry moguls of the digital age. The museum has certainly played a role in attracting businesses and professionals in the tech industry to locate here and bring the high-paying, clean-industry jobs that are the future of Southwest Montana.
In the wake of Keremedjiev’s passing, the museum will remained closed for the rest of this year. But those who haven’t already experienced this gem must make a point of visiting it when it reopens.
Surely they will be glad they did.
Billings Gazette, Nov. 25, on defending Montana against influenza:
The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 sickened an estimated 500 million people worldwide and killed up to 50 million, including 675,000 Americans. In Montana, the severe respiratory illness and related pneumonia killed nearly 4,200 people between September 1918 and June 1919, including 254 in Yellowstone County, 63 in Rosebud and 118 in Custer.
The pandemic overwhelmed Billings’ only hospital, St. Vincent. In October 1918, the Red Cross set up an emergency hospital in the Billings high school at North 30th Street and Fourth Avenue North to care for dozens of the worst cases.
“Medical science and public health were not prepared to grapple with the deluge of morbidity and death,” three Montana public health experts wrote in describing the pandemic’s toll on our state in the Summer 2018 issue of Montana The Magazine of Western History. Todd Harwell, Dr. Greg Holzman and Dr. Steven Helgerson noted that Montanans suffered many other infectious diseases in 1918, including 1,104 cases of smallpox, 179 cases of typhoid fever, 309 cases of diphtheria and 12,086 cases of measles. Influenza reporting wasn’t even required until after the pandemic hit.
Are we prepared to prevent pandemics now?
A recent exercise at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security showed that an epidemic of an influenza-like virus could kill 15 million Americans in a single year, according to an article in the Nov. 7 New England Journal of Medicine. Author Ron Klein also noted that “it would take less than 24 hours for a virus like the 1918 influenza to move from almost any point on the planet to Paris or Washington, Beijing or Riyadh.”
Threat of pandemic remains, but medical science has more weapons to use against it:
- Anti-viral medication.
- A strategic national stockpile of influenza vaccines and anti-viral medicine that has been rapidly distributed in bad flu seasons, such as the HINI epidemic of 2009.
“We have a lot of advantages now that they didn’t have back then. No World War I. They didn’t know what caused it. We’ve got vaccines and anti-viral medicines,” said Harwell, chief of the Montana Public Health and Safety Division in Helena. Harwell, Helgerson and Jim Murphy, head of the Montana Communicable Disease Bureau spoke about influenza prevention in a recent phone interview with The Gazette.
The virulent 1918 strain of influenza hit young, otherwise healthy adults. By the time authorities realized there was a problem, it was a pandemic — a huge worldwide contagion.
“One of the biggest things going for us now is the worldwide surveillance network,” Murphy said. “There’s worldwide cooperation to detect anything new as soon as possible.”
“Last year was a bad season,” Murphy said, with about 80,000 flu-related deaths nationwide and 79 in Montana. “So far, it looks like the right strains are in the vaccine.” As of last week, 31 cases had been confirmed in 11 counties from Missoula to Roosevelt.
“The biggest thing on the horizon is developing and introducing a universal flu vaccine with better coverage for more strains,” Harwell said.
Vaccines aren’t perfect. For one thing, they must be administered annually. The vaccine is grown in eggs, so production takes about six months. Every year, scientists use data to project which flu strains will be around in the October-March flu season. If the prediction proves wrong, the vaccine will be less effective and more people will get sick.
Access to the vaccine has improved in recent years, said Steven Helgerson, former Montana state medical officer. Many employers now offer flu shots at work. Pharmacies offer flu shots. “We want to make it as convenient as possible,” Helgerson said.
For all the research and knowledge gained over the past century, prevention is still a tough sell. Only about half of Montanans get annual flu shots, even though the vaccine is recommended for almost everybody over 6 months of age.
State and federal lawmakers must emphasize prevention. Too often, funding for disease research, development and prevention follows disasters and emergencies — even though lives and money could have been saved by investing sufficiently in public health and awareness.
A century ago, many Montana leaders (and their counterparts nationwide) minimized or ignored the influenza threat until people were dying. If history has taught us anything, we should know that protecting the population’s health is a basic responsibility of our government. Legislators, don’t sell public health short.
Dear Gazette readers, protect yourselves by getting a flu shot. Protect everyone around you by washing your hands often, sneezing and coughing into your sleeve and staying home if you are sick.
As Helgerson said: “The ability to work together is key to preventing modern influenza epidemics.”