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Gucci: Unlikely Animal Welfare Activist.

Gucci was nominated by Dr. Laurie Green of Mobile

By now anyone with access to a newspaper, television, radio, or word of mouth knows at least something about the story of Gucci, the three month old Chow-husky mix from Mobile who was hanged from a tree by his neck, repeatedly smacked in the face and kicked, and finally doused with lighter fluid and set on fire the night of Thursday, May 19, 1994. The puppy somehow managed to escape from his teenaged assailants and, still ablaze, ran under a porch. He was rescued, with the help of a neighbor of the girl who owned him, by Dr. Doug James, an adjunct communication arts professor at Spring Hill College, who was in the neighborhood only because he was trying to sell a house he owned there.

James initially tried to steer clear of the puppy’s woes, but circumstances prevented him from doing this. He ended up taking the burned puppy home with him that night to administer the supportive care he was able to give, even though he expected Gucci to expire from his injuries before morning. The resilient little dog didn’t die, however, and the next morning James was on the phone to friends and associates in an effort to best determine how to arrange what surely would be extensive, expensive veterinary care for a dog who belonged to someone else. A veterinary pharmaceutical sales rep recommended that Dr. Ann Branch perform the initial evaluation. She took one look at the puppy with second and third degree burns covering his face, head, and neck and agreed to treat him at no charge, on the condition that he never be returned to the cruel environment from which he had been rescued. Not knowing yet how to respond to Dr. Branch’s admonition, James thanked the generous vet and left Gucci in her care for the time being.

Meanwhile, Dr. James had made attorney George Hardesty, a dog lover and defender of animal welfare, aware of the assault on Gucci. Hardesty was not encouraging, given the dearth of animal protection laws in the State of Alabama at that time, but promised to lend as much support as he could.

James had also contacted a friend at the Mobile Press-Register about doing a story in an effort to raise funds for Gucci’s veterinary needs. George Werneth interviewed James that morning and took pictures at Dr. Branch’s clinic. The story and a picture of the maimed puppy were front page news on Saturday, May 21, 1994.

James’ telephone rang nonstop that morning, as did the phones at Dr. Branch’s office and the Press-Register. Included in the calls were inquiries from Mobile police officers who were just finding out about the case. Officer Tommy Menton immediately launched his own investigation of the crime, as did Ryan Russell, a private investigator. By the first of the next week, four males had been identified as being associated with the attack on Gucci. Less than two weeks later, a nineteen year old and two sixteen year olds had been arrested, taken into custody, and charged with animal cruelty.

In the midst of the media and law enforcement attention surrounding him, Gucci remained in Dr. Branch’s care, continuing to heal fairly steadily from his injuries. He patiently and quietly tolerated any procedure necessary in the treatment of his wounds. Eventually contractures from the burns on his face pulled his eyelids upward so that he could no longer blink or close his eyes. The decision was made to take him to Auburn University’s School of Veterinary Medicine for evaluation for surgical intervention. There Gucci underwent a series of surgeries to ease the tension on the skin of his eyelids. By the end of 1994, he had healed sufficiently to appear in a segment on “Inside Edition” which aired August 30th. He and Dr. James were also invited, and drove all the way, to New York in December of that year to appear in a special program on survivor dogs for the “Maury Povich Show”, which was televised January 16, 1995.

Gucci’s media exposure in newspapers and magazines, and on radio and local and national television networks, including CNN, caused a deluge of letters, cards, and telephone calls from all over the Unites States, as well as from Canada and countries as far flung as Australia. He received gifts of money and treats from both private and corporate donors. He also benefited from frequent appearances at fundraisers held by humane societies across Alabama and in Florida.

In November, 1994, Gucci underwent surgery once more for bilateral hip dysplasia via Auburn’s veterinary orthopedic surgery department. In March, 1995, he received a final operation on his left eyelid. By June of that year, after also being neutered, he was released by his Auburn caretakers, who declared him healed and in need of no further surgeries.

Gucci’s original owner, a fifteen year old girl who had no means of providing for the serious medical needs of her puppy, had long since turned him over to Dr. James. She told James she hoped he could find the puppy a good home, but preferred that he keep him as his one of his own, if possible. After all he and Gucci had been through together in just a few months’ time, James could hardly have given him up.

Through the efforts of George Hardesty and Judge James Strickland, in July, 1994, Gucci’s two juvenile attackers were each given 200 hours of community service, preferably in settings where they would have to participate in animal care, and ordered to pay fines of $250 plus court costs. After multiple delays, the 19 year old assailant’s case finally came to jury trial on February 3, 1995. He pleaded guilty as a felon, and two days later was sentenced to three months in jail (of which he served six weeks), two years’ probation, and was ordered to pay restitution for Gucci’s surgical bills.

Gucci is now 12 years old, healthy, and strong. Over the years he has been the recipient of awards, citations, and other forms of recognition too numerous to mention here. He was named “Alabama’s Official State Spokesdog Against Animal Cruelty” by Governor Fob James in February, 1998. In May, 2000, exactly six years following his abuse, the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill making intentional cruelty to domesticated animals a Class C felony, punishable with a prison term of up to 10 years. The bill was signed into law by Governor Don Siegleman, with Gucci looking on, on May 20, 2000.

Since 2004, May 15 is “Gucci Day” in Mobile, and in May of this year, Gucci Lane was dedicated and is the street which leads to the Mobile Animal Shelter.

Little did Doug James realize when he accepted responsibility for Gucci’s care that spring night how this unlikeliest of canine spokesmen would change his life, those of all who have seen him or heard his story, and most importantly, the safety of animals living in Alabama and other states where similar animal protection laws have been enacted in recent years.

Matilda: Gallinaceous Celebrity and Guinness World Record holder was nominated by the Britt Animal Hospital of Birmingham.

Matilda Barton, an Old English Red Pyle hen, began her career as a magician’s assistant, social commentator, and stage and television personality in October, 1990, when she was spotted at the Alabama State Fair’s poultry exhibit by Keith and Donna Barton. The two part-time professional magicians, better known as “Mort The Mystifying and Donna”, observed the young bird’s behavior and were intrigued by her apparent interest in and ease with humans. They had considered adding a bird to their magic act and were immediately smitten with the tiny, ivory-colored bantam hen. This little lady, who apparently was an outgoing performer from the outset, had a habit of stepping from side to side as though she were dancing, and the Bartons decided to name her Matilda, after the famous Australian folk song, “Waltzing Matilda”.

Thereupon began Matilda’s extensive career. After a brief training period, she made her stage debut on June 5, 1991, for the Summer Reading Program at the Bessemer Public Library. That day, she and “Mort” presented a stunning magical act in which Matilda appeared to materialize from an egg which had been cracked into a pan. The audience’s thunderous applause convinced the Bartons they had made a wise choice in their new assistant.

When Matilda reached the age of 11 in 2001, her personal physicians, Drs. Randy and Rob Britt of Britt Animal Hospital in Birmingham, noted the average lifespan of a chicken as being seven to eight years. They suggested the Bartons might make Guinness World Records aware of their hen’s “advanced” age. The Bartons contacted the Guinness offices in London, England, in late July, 2001. At the age of 14 years, in April, 2004, the 14 ounce hen finally received a congratulatory letter and certificate bearing her title of “World’s Oldest Living Chicken”.

As a result of Matilda’s induction into Guinness, she and the Bartons appeared as guests on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno on September 9, 2004. To the delight of both the studio and television audiences, the hen displayed her customary professional’s poise as she strutted across Leno’s desk, pecked at bread crumbs, played with a favorite toy, and presented her own inimitable but authentic impersonation of the NBC peacock.

In follow-up to her brilliant late night television performance, Matilda performed the even more miraculous feat of penning a delightful column for Portico Magazine, in October, 2004. Entitled “10 Things I’ve Learned as the World’s Oldest Living Chicken”, the article contains homespun advice that only a hen of Matilda’s years and experience could dispense.

Aside from her obvious star qualities and journalistic talents, Matilda displayed her considerable charms at churches, medical facilities, retirement homes, schools, libraries, and birthday parties, where she provoked joy, inspiration, and interest in animal health and welfare in all she encountered. In September, 2005, Matilda received the Olivia Bearden Award, in recognition of her many years of service for the good of both humans and animals, from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

As much as her family, friends, and admirers wished that Matilda might live forever, this was not possible. The little bantam hen passed away from heart failure on February 11, 2006, at the age of 16 years. She had retired from public life in October, 2005, due to age-related health problems.

Matilda has been posthumously honored, with a “Broken Perch Ceremony” in Birmingham on August 5th of this year, by the Southeastern Association of Magicians, in acknowledgement of her exceptional career as a magician’s bird and in mourning of her death by the magicians’ community. As part of the ceremony, Matilda’s contributions to the State of Alabama were noted in the presentation to the Bartons of a commendation issued by Governor Bob Riley.

It is believed that Matilda’s longevity was the result of several factors. She never produced eggs and, thus, did not experience the stresses of reproduction. She lived indoors all her life, in a cage next door to her best pal, Lucky, a rabbit who was also her magic show co-star. She had regular and conscientious veterinary care from the doctors Britt, as well as, toward the end of her life, from Dr. Alvin Atlas. She received much admiration and attention, which she always seemed to relish, from both her caretakers and her audiences. Whatever Matilda’s anti-aging secret was, the Bartons appear to have provided the right mix of the proper ingredients to ensure its success.

We are honored to induct Matilda into the Alabama Animal Hall of Fame.

Muffin: Canine Guardian Angel who was nominated by Dr. David Hayes of Hueytown.

Muffin Wall, a Boston terrier, certainly came into this world in a way which did not fill her veterinarian with much hope regarding her normal development and long term survival. In his letter of nomination, Dr. A. David Hayes describes a multitude of troubling problems besetting the seven week old puppy he first encountered in 1984. This frail, weak baby had eyes which pointed outward on both sides, indicating she probably would not have normal stereoscopic vision. The puppy’s head was enlarged and domed, and there was a large, open “soft spot” in the top of her skull, leading Dr. Hayes to suspect she had probable hydrocephalus, which would surely cause her to suffer from learning disabilities in the future, if she lived long enough. Additionally, all four legs extended out to the side of her body, and the breast bone was flattened, all of which would prevent Muffin from standing and walking normally. As Dr. Hayes explained to Mrs. Wall on the day of his initial exam, the possibility that Muffin would grow up normally were slim. When Hayes recommended the Walls return the puppy to the breeder they had purchased her from for a refund, the horrified Mrs. Wall stated that this was not an option for her or her family. They had all become too attached to the funny looking little dog already, and would not give her up, no matter what the future held for her.
Although Dr. Hayes eventually learned that, in addition to her other handicaps, Muffin could not swallow properly and was restricted to a liquid diet, he realized it was pointless to argue with the Wall family any more regarding their puppy’s probable fate. Therefore, he and the Walls provided the fragile baby with the best care they were able to give, and by her first birthday, little Muffin was a picture of health. She appeared to have normal vision, there was no further evidence of hydrocephalus, her ability to swallow solid food had become normal, and her sternal and extremity abnormalities had corrected themselves. She had no gait abnormalities and exhibited boundless energy.
After a few years, the family decided to allow Muffin to have her own litter of puppies. Dr. Hayes reminded them of her multiple congenital problems and of the likelihood of transferring any or all of these to any puppies she might bear. The Walls forged ahead in typical optimistic fashion, however, and Muffin shortly became the mother of three perfect offspring. All the puppies remained in the Wall household; they had become a four dog family. A slight problem did develop when Muffin began to try to nurse her new babies. Due to a form of mastitis, two of her breasts produced milk which the puppies could not feed on. Dr. Hayes instructed the Walls to massage the breasts daily to remove the tainted milk, and Mrs. Wall decided to place bandaids over the affected nipples to prevent the puppies from trying to feed there. As a testament to the kind of mother she was, Muffin tolerated all her treatments without complaint, in order to properly nurture her youngsters, and never tried to remove the bandages on her abdomen. She just seemed to know that this might put her babies in danger.
The winter of 1987 was uncharacteristically cold for Alabama. In the early hours of December 8th, Mr. Wall was awakened by the sound of Muffin’s barking and scratching at one of the doors which led to the family’s bedrooms. Upon investigating the source of the dog’s distress, Wall found smoke and flames in a hallway and quickly awakened his wife. After safely getting themselves outside to safety via second story bedroom windows, the Walls waited and watched while the fire was subdued and extinguished. All the puppies were safe in the backyard, thanks to a doggie door in the den. But Muffin was not with them. Finally one of the firemen entered the smoldering house and found her lifeless body facing the door where her human family had been sleeping.
The Wall’s sons are grown now and have moved away from their parents’ home. The damage to their house from the fire has long since been repaired or rebuilt. All of Muffin’s puppies were well-loved and had long, healthy, happy lives. One wonders if all these good things would have happened if a pitiful little puppy who came to be called Muffin had never been able to realize her purpose and potential as a wonderful pet, friend, mother, and savior, in the care of the human family who simply gave her a chance to be the best dog she could be.

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