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NEWS: Family feuds with pet cemetery over dog’s headstone

It was bad enough when the family dog died on the Korns’ wedding anniversary.

What made it even worse, Ben Korn said, was that he and his wife paid about $1,200 for a burial at Pet Cemetery of Tucson and have yet to see a headstone.

The June 6 agreement the Korns signed, for a total of $1,173, covers the grave, endowment care, interment fee, casket and a granite memorial for their beloved Dalmatian Floyd.

It’s going on November and there’s still no headstone.

“I feel they kind of took advantage of us in a real tough situation, ” said Korn, 30.

He repeatedly contacted cemetery owner Darla Norrish, who eventually stopped returning his calls.

She did respond with a certified letter and refund check for $300 he received Friday, referring him to two memorial companies where he could get a marker.

“Isn’t that terrible?” Korn asked. He said every time he deals with the headstone issue, he revisits Floyd’s death.

“My wife was hysterical for weeks,” he said of his bride of two years, Melissa, 32, who had Floyd in her life for 10 years.

“Floyd was her baby, and he was loved by everyone who dealt with him.”

Norrish, whom the newspaper first tried to contact two days before Korn received the refund check, returned the calls Monday. She said she did not wish to comment on any clients’ business to respect their privacy. She offered a phone number for the cemetery’s management company, which did not return calls for comment.

Korn had visited Floyd’s grave at the cemetery, 5720 E. Glenn St, at least half a dozen times since July, looking for the 15-inch granite headstone they selected, complete with a paw print and “Our Little Man” etched on it.

Floyd’s plot is nestled between one for a dog named Annie, who died in 2003, and a pet named Crystal, who lived until 1993. Across the aisle sits headstones for a pack of pugs with the surname Laster who have their own subgarden cordoned off.

“All we wanted was a nice place to go to in his memory,” Korn said at the cemetery Monday afternoon. The tinkling of wind chimes was the only sound at the quiet expanse just south of Glenn Street.

“Now his whole memory is ruined,” he said.

Korn’s experience is not a singular one. The Better Business Bureau lists Pet Cemetery of Tucson, also known as Petland Memorial Park, as unsatisfactory, citing its failure to respond to complaints. One was lodged by Korn against the company; a second, by another customer – both within the past three years.

No further information was available because the company is not an accredited BBB member, said Kathy Maytum, an administrative assistant with the bureau.

“The whole thing is a heartbreaker,” Korn said. “It’s so frustrating and just a bad deal from the beginning.”

It all started back in June, when Floyd was stricken by an ailment that paralyzed his esophagus. He could no longer keep food down, was in extreme misery and had to be put to sleep about five days after he fell ill, Korn said. “He was just a shell of himself.”

Floyd’s death was so traumatizing the Korns had to take several days off work to recuperate.

“We ended up spending the next two or three days just staring at the TV on the wall in our bedroom,” he recalled.

The backyard was not an option: Floyd deserved a proper resting place, Korn said.

Buena Pet Clinic, where Floyd was taken for veterinarian care, referred them to the cemetery.

With Pet Haven Memorial Park no longer handling burials, Pet Cemetery of Tucson is the only operating pet cemetery in town.

But, Korn believes, it’s not a proper resting place for Floyd.

“The talk about this place is supposedly it’s all loving and compassionate,” he said, “but this is a disgrace.”

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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 31, 2007, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

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FEATURE: One year later man hopeful, not bitter, after beating

Francisco Baires is still recovering, one year later, from a beating with a baseball bat that nearly killed him.

His attacker, Ryan Robert Baker, 28, didn’t get any money during the mugging downtown. He was sentenced Friday to 37 1/2 years in prison for aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery.

Baires, 30, now walks with a cane, can’t remember his dreams and remains partially paralyzed on the left side.

“Compared to the 5 percent chance of survival he had, he’s come a long way,” said Baires’ mother, Pamela Schultz, 56. “But he still has a lot of deficit, a lot that he’ll probably have his whole life. That’s heartbreaking.”

Baires’ message, however, is not one of bitterness or revenge. It’s of hope.

“I just wanted my life back,” Baires said. He’s getting it.

In January, after a five-month hiatus, the anthropology graduate student resumed studies at the University of Arizona and his job at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Not all was uphill from there. Baires broke his right leg, his good one, on the first day of classes.

“Physically, I’m still pretty gimpy in terms of my walking,” he said. “I’m not that confident on my feet.

“I don’t have the fine movement in my left hand. It’s hard for me to open an envelope. I can’t raise my left arm above my shoulder.

“My left eye had gone in all the way. I had to wear an eye patch. I had to be monitored when I was eating. I couldn’t swallow.”

His memory of the June 26 assault is hazy, although he was told he gave an account of the attack to a police detective not long after it happened.

Baires and his girlfriend at the time were leaving a downtown bar about 2:30 a.m. when Baker jumped out of a car near Stone Avenue and Sixth Street and demanded cash and jewelry.

The couple had none. Baker beat Baires in the head with the bat.

Baires spent several days in a coma, underwent emergency surgery at University Medical Center to stop the bleeding in his brain, and was transferred to Northwest Hospital for a month of intensive rehabilitation.

“I wouldn’t call myself a pessimistic person before this happened,” Baires said, “but I always did see a lot of negativity, a lot of brutality and sadness in humanity. When I came out of this, I was just moved by the human compassion and grace.”

Most of his support comes from his family. His mother, grandfather, sister and others flocked to Arizona after the attack to be by his side.

His mom ended up moving from Florida to Tucson in April, with her husband, Carl, 75, and her mother, Mae Cody, 84.

More support came from friends, fellow students, UA’s anthropology department, nurses at UMC and total strangers who fed his visiting family members and gave them phone cards.

Baires’ support was rounded out by special prayers requested by his friend Kat Rodriguez. She asked Franciscan brothers and a group of religious fire dancers to pray for her friend’s recovery.

“All these different people – Franciscan brothers and indigenous dancers – were praying for me,” Baires said. “I just want to tell people there’s a grace that’s overwhelming.”

His mom shares his upbeat attitude, emphasizing it was never about revenge against Baker, but getting him off the streets.

“He’ll go right from prison to an old age home,” Baires said.

“I never ask why,” he said of life’s circumstances, “because I won’t get an answer. Some things we’re not going to know.

“I’d rather spend time counting my blessings.”

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This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

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FEATURE: Firefighting runs in families

Matthew Trujillo, 23, made it into the Tucson Fire Department by the seat of his industrial, flame-proof pants.

Not because he isn’t up to the task, said his uncle Richard Trujillo, but because the last 12 recruits who entered the academy this time around nearly got shut out of a job because of budget cuts.

Instead, Trujillo, and the other 11 last-to-enroll recruits, joined a total of 34 men and one woman at Friday’s graduation at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave.

Hundreds of folks were on hand to cheer for the new firefighters, with signs, noisemakers and standing ovations.

Special honors went to Jeremiah Tabaj, who was chosen by secret ballot by his peers as the class’s outstanding recruit, also known as the “Super Boot.”

“It will make you stronger or break you,” he said of the 22 weeks of heavy-duty training the recruits endured. “Every day you found yourself being pushed far beyond your capacity. To say it was life-changing is truly an understatement.”

The graduation celebration was large, long and most likely the only one for 2008, said emcee Deputy Chief Laura Baker.

“This will be the last graduation before Chief Dan Newburn and Assistant Chief Gerald Bates retire at the end of the year,” she said.

Also retiring – and honored – was Fire Department secretary Diane Lewis for her 28 years of service and her help with 25 recruiting classes.

“A lot of people are retiring,” said Theresa Pope, who was with her family at the graduation to support her husband, training Capt. Dave Pope. “It could become dangerous if they don’t replace them. They need to fill the positions.”

Finding people who want the jobs is not the problem. Her son Colton Pope, 17, said he is definitely going to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“It’s a great opportunity, a very secure job,” Pope said. “From the stories my father tells me, you experience all different kinds of situations and meet different kinds of people.”

Another graduate, Andrew Grimes, is a third-generation firefighter. His father, Capt. James Grimes, is a 23-year veteran. His grandfather, Assistant Chief Wesley Grimes, retired in 1988.

Matthew Trujillo’s family, too, knows the joy of firefighting.

His father, Andy Trujillo, is a captain with 26 years in the department. Other family members work for Tucson and Rural Metro fire crews.

His uncle Richard Trujillo also wanted to follow that path, but said he was shut out of a job.

He tried out at a time when the department began hiring women, he said, and there were fewer openings for men.

He followed the family’s other path – into the grocery business. “My grandfather was a door-to-door milkman,” he said of his grandfather, who went on to own a downtown Tucson grocery that has since been sold.

“Firefighters are a really family-oriented group,” he said. “They stand for brotherhood and camaraderie.”

Colton Pope wants to join that brotherhood and said if Tucson isn’t hiring firefighters when he’s ready within the next two years, he’ll go to college and wait out a hiring freeze.

“I’d rather wait four years than go someplace else,” he said.

His little brother, Chase Pope, 7, has a lot of time before he has to worry if a hiring freeze will affect his firefighting career decision. But he also has a backup plan once he gets out of high school.

“I’m going to be a football player first,” he said. “Then a firefighter.”

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This article originally appeared in the June 21, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

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NEWS: Zoo’s senior citizens a growing breed

Mbali turned 21 years old this week, but instead of a beer, he got his regular dose of Metamucil.

The lion, who would live about 15 years in the wild, is one of the oldest animals at Reid Park Zoo. His partner, Atatu, is also 21. Their son, Kitabu, is 17.

“Wow,” said Rigel Diaz, 30, who was visiting the zoo with her husband, Paul Diaz, 30, and their 2-month-old son, Diego.

“It’s only fair,” she said of keeping animals into old age. “Otherwise it would be like getting rid of an old dog.”

Besides, she added of the mature Mbali, “He looks so content.”

The lions aren’t the only elders in Reid Park Zoo, or the only senior beasts in zoos across the nation.

Animals are living longer in captivity than ever before, and longer than they would in the wild.

The absence of natural and gun-toting predators, territorial disputes and strenuous activities such as hunting and killing their own food, makes life in the zoo a walk in the park.

Vet care has also improved, leading to longer lifespans through advances in treating the consequences of aging, said Scott Barton, Reid Park Zoo’s general curator.

“Our parents and grandparents just dealt with the pain of growing older, but we now have ways to alleviate the symptoms,” he said. “In zoos, it’s pretty much the same thing. We have better monitoring of the animal’s conditions.”

The Reid Park Zoo, 1030 S. Randolph Way, and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road, keep their animals on healthful diets and in naturalistic surroundings, which also contribute to their longevity.

At many zoos, tiny iron cages and bare concrete floors are long gone.

Grassy knolls, shady groves, cliffs, caves, pools and waterfalls have been installed to keep the animals active and content. Playthings keep them occupied.

“Their quality of life has improved dramatically,” Barton said.

Reid Park Zoo habitats are friendly for older and younger creatures alike, which is important because animals stay in the same enclosure their entire lives.

The Desert Museum, which is remodeling some areas to keep animals in the same habitat for their lifespans, often has separate areas out of the public’s view for the older creatures.

“Our two black bears recently retired from absolute stardom,” said Shawnee Riplog-Peterson, curator of mammalogy and ornithology.

Instead of the undulating terrain of their former exhibit, their new off-exhibit pen is stocked with features to help them in their senior years.

“While the exhibit looks really wonderful for people to see,” she said of their former habitat, “it can be difficult for the bears to move about.”

The retirement pen has a pool with gently sloping sides, ramps to a nighttime holding area, stainless-steel scratching posts for bears that no longer can reach around to groom some areas, and feeding chutes so the bears don’t have to move to the opposite side of the pen while they are being fed.

Animals tend to show the same signs of aging found in humans, the curators say.

“We do exactly the same things you might do for one of your own pets or even family members,” Barton said.

“There’s a nice laundry list of drugs that helps aging animals,” added Riplog-Peterson.

In the case of the lions, Atatu’s joints were getting stiff. Mbali, who is deaf, was losing his appetite.

Atatu’s condition is corrected with arthritis medication.

Keepers turn to visual cues if an animal has trouble hearing, audio cues for failing eyesight and other cues, such as scent, to compensate for the loss of other senses.

They stimulate appetites with healthy, special treats.

“Popsicles, meat-sickles, blood-sickles, heart-sickles,” zookeeper Alisha Brewer explained. Scrumptious ingredients, at least for a lion, are frozen in a big bucket for a cool and tasty treat, and their diets are supplemented with ox tails and dead rabbits.

Losing teeth is another sign of old age, one that’s evident in Reid Park’s sun bear, Dresena, who just had a few extracted.

Asian bears usually live to about 20 to 25 in the wild, Barton said. Dresena is going on 29.

“She’s definitely slowing down but she’s in really good health,” he said.

Moms, Reid Park Zoo’s 37-year-old gibbons monkey, is also missing some teeth, not surprising for a primate more than a decade past her prime.

Needing lots of sleep is another sign of senioritis, one exhibited by the zoo’s anteater, Juanita.

“She’s really elderly,” Barton said of the 24-year-old. Anteaters usually live 25 to 30 years.

Until two years ago, Reid Park Zoo had Dave, at 29 the oldest anteater in the country.

“We have a number of different criteria when we feel an animal is longer doing well,” Riplog-Peterson said.

“For instance, if a hummingbird can’t fly, you’re doing it a disservice not to euthanize that animal.”

The most recent euthanization at the Desert Museum was an otter put down last month.

The latest animal put to sleep at Reid Park Zoo was Yebo, a 17-year-old giraffe euthanized last year.

“He was a great animal and certainly a staff favorite,” Barton said. “He was getting arthritic. It got to a point where he just seemed to be very uncomfortable.”

Both zoo and museum officials say it is all about the animals’ quality of life, and the zookeepers’ dedication to being stewards for life.

Care of elderly animals can get expensive, just as it can for people, but curators say it’s a commitment theye made when they took on the animal.

Even with food, medicine, and just about everything else getting more expensive, Brewer said the animals are never slighted.

The renowned San Diego Zoo, which operates both a zoo with smaller enclosures and a wildlife animal park with hundreds of open acres, has the same policy.

In many instances, it also has been the first zoo to learn how long animals can live in captivity. Zoo animals have set many longevity records.

“Geriatrics in wild animal species has not been studied very much,” said spokeswoman Christina Simmons. “When we’re the only zoological organization that has had giant pandas for any length of time, there isn’t anyone to compare them to.”

San Diego has had a giant panda for the past 12 years. The great bears live 14 to 20 years in the wild.

Simmons said breaking ground in animal geriatrics is both exciting and challenging.

“A lot of times, our public doesn’t really understand that signs of geriatrics are a natural part of living,” she said.

One Fort Huachuca family visiting the Reid Park Zoo on Wednesday was amazed that two of the giraffes they were feeding are 19 years old.

“It’s great as long as the animals are kept physically healthy, and mentally healthy, too,” said Kay Hayes, 57, who was visiting Fort Huachuca from Alabama.

Her 40-year-old daughter, Stacy Sandlin, agreed. “It’s wonderful they live to be so old, as long as they’re not forced to just sit there.”

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This article originally appeared in the June 21, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

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FEATURE: $500,000 needed to save Tucson landmark

Tucsonan Ann Marie Heithaus vividly remembers her first visit to the Valley of the Moon more than 30 years ago.

She and her Brownie Girl Scouts troop were dazzled by a fairy princess, glimpsed a gnome or two and were on their way to meet the mighty wizard Zoggog in his tower.

“I remember walking down the dark, dark staircase, ” she said of the chamber beneath the Cathedral Room, “and my imagination just taking me away.”

Now Heithaus has joined other Valley of the Moon devotees to keep alive the magical wonderland that has delighted hundreds of thousands of visitors for 85 years.

Valley of the Moon needs help. Lots of help. Perhaps about $500,000, spokesman Charlie Spillar said.

The public is invited to share memories and ideas and volunteer to “Save the Moon” from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the landmark, 2544 E. Allen Road, northeast of East Prince Road and North Tucson Boulevard.

The George Phar Legler Society, named after the man who built Valley of the Moon in the 1920s, will conduct a final tour of the Enchanted Garden before it is closed to the public.

“I think about the uniqueness of Tucson and that phrase, ‘That’s such a Tucson thing,’ ” said Sue DeArmond, secretary of the Prince Tucson Neighborhood Association. “Valley of the Moon is one of those Tucson things.

“We’ve lived here 30 years. My children went to Valley of the Moon, my grandchildren have been there. It’s a Tucson tradition.”

Many historic parts of Valley of the Moon, known colloquially as “the Moon,” are already cordoned off.

“The tower floor is rotten,” said Spillar, who first visited the Moon about five months ago and jumped in to help. “It’s in bad shape.”

The same goes for the rickety troll bridge, the wobbly-staired rabbit hole and the Caves of Terror, all of which are closed to the public.

That may be the fate for the park’s entire 2 1/2 acres packed with grottos, Hobbit homes, rock domes and the wizard’s tower.

For years, the Moon has been hanging by a thread, charging only for two of its events: its spring show and zombie-filled Halloween tours.

“George always used to say ‘Happiness is given, not sold,’ ” Spillar said, explaining the lack of admission.

That may bring smiles, but it doesn’t pay to keep the park in top shape.

“We’re really in danger,” said Legler Society President Randy Van Nostrand, on the Moon’s board for 12 years, president for three.

“This is not a joke,” he said. “This is not a campaign. We need big money or big artists or a lot of volunteers. If people who used to love the Moon don’t start stepping forward, we’re not going to last.”

Help has trickled in with a $25,000 donation from a source who wants to remain anonymous and a professional planning team provided by the city agency PRO Neighborhoods.

The team includes an architect, a landscape architect, a planner, a professor and an engineer. It will meet sometime in February.

The meeting will serve to decide what the Moon’s future will hold, if there is one.

Loren Trujillo is one of many who hope there will be a future. He fell into the Tucson tradition in 1994, when, as a fourth-grader, he was invited to a birthday party at the Moon.

“It was more than just little kids,” said Trujillo, 24. “It was quite the age group, and I don’t think anybody didn’t like it.

“It’s your own little fantasy land, its own little oasis. You don’t even feel like you’re in Tucson when you’re there.”

Rebecca Ruopp, the planner on the Moon’s team of professionals, had a similar experience.

“I got sucked in,” Ruopp said of the first time she visited the site – recently to prepare for the planning effort.

“It was like another world. When you leave, you have to ask if you were really there,” she said. “It’s almost like a dream. It’s detached from everyday life and allows the imagination to go wild.”

Alyssa Moyes, 15, who will star as the fairy princess on Saturday, took her imagination one step further when she joined the children’s acting troupe about five years ago.

“I would be totally crushed if Valley of the Moon closed,” she said.

Moyes loves the Moon so much that she is the youth representative of the Legler Society. Her 13-year-old brother is with the acting troupe and her dad is a member of the society.

“It’s like a bonding experience for parents and their kids,” said Spillar, 65. “Parents seem to be able to drift back in childhood. It brings out the children in all of us.”

Valley of the Moon is a family tradition for U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who joined the “Save the Moon” effort as an honorary preservation co-chairman. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords also co-chairs the effort.

Grijalva hopes the Moon will be fixed up soon so his 10-month-old granddaughter can experience it.

“It’s a rite of passage,” said Grijalva press secretary Natalie Luna, adding that Grijalva’s three daughters went there some 20 years ago.

“He wants his granddaughter to start her Valley of the Moon education and pass it on to her children,” Luna said.

Part of the Moon’s appeal is its use of imagination, something lacking in a world of instant gratification and MTV, said Legler Society board member Eric Heithaus, who is married to Ann Marie.

“Unlike what society puts out there, the Moon is very special and real, definitely something you can never buy at Wal-Mart,” he said.

Heithaus’ band, Black Man Clay, has performed at the Moon.

“How valuable is it to Tucson to have a place where a family can go for free and spend the afternoon?” he asked. “How could we lose such a great thing that’s in our midst?”

Ann Marie Heithaus said the Valley of the Moon gives kids something as valuable as magic.

It “gives kids that empowerment,” she said, “that one man could create all this, that if you put your mind to it you can create a whole world. That’s a really important lesson for a child to learn.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen.

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