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NEWS: Cash offered to addicts, alcoholics who agree to long-term birth control

Folks at downtown’s Ronstadt Transit Center on Tuesday afternoon had a way to make a quick $300.

The only stipulation was that the people be drug addicts or alcoholics who agree to long-term birth control.

The group Project Prevention, started by Barbara Harris in 1997, has so far paid more than 2, 800 men and women across the nation.

Harris, who hails from Harrisburg, N.C., was in Tucson with the group’s Fresno, Calif., chapter leader Stephanie Cruz to spread the word of their program in Old Pueblo.

The nonprofit’s mission is to stop the wave of babies that are born addicted, unwanted or with health problems associated with their mother’s or father’s substance abuse.

“It’s a terrible problem here in this city,” said Tucsonan Natalie McGee, the woman who invited the group to town. “We have an enormous drug problem on the border and this is the main corridor.”

McGee, who volunteers for several children’s organizations, such as In My Shoes Inc., CASA and the state’s Foster Care Review Board, sees some of the horror first hand.

“So many children are being abused and dying,” said McGee, 59. “Their parents did heroin and crack and cocaine and they never live to see their first year.”

Both Harris, 56, and Cruz, 51, adopted babies that were born to either alcoholics or addicts. Harris has four adopted children. Cruz has eight.

The first one Cruz adopted was her sister’s baby.

“My sister was a drug addict,” Cruz said. “She gave birth when she was four and a half months pregnant. The baby weighed 1 pound 8 ounces, needed a feeding tube and had his intestines on the outside of his body.”

The child is now 17 years old and doing fine, as are the rest of her adopted children, but Cruz said there has been a lot of work and a lot of medical care involved.

While none of the folks at the Ronstadt Center said they were drug addicts or alcoholics, all were eager to take a flier and learn more about Project Prevention.

“I think it’s good,” said Nikkitta Stephens, 19. “It will get more people on birth control so they won’t have unwanted kids.”

Lettie Wofford, 32, agreed. “Those babies come all deformed and stuff,” she said.

Camron McAllister, 22, was at the bus station with his new baby, 3-month-old Bryant Andrew McAllister. While he said Bryant was a “pleasant surprise,” he also knew several people who could benefit from the program. “It’s a good idea,” he said.

Harris said the reception everywhere they go mirrors the one received in Tucson, with very little opposition.

Acceptable long-term birth control includes tubal ligation, Depo Provera shots and IUDs for women, or a vasectomy for men.

The group verifies that the person is, in fact, an addict or alcoholic and that the procedure has been completed before any money is paid.

“Those who oppose what we’re doing should be willing to step up and adopt a few of the babies,” Harris said. “These women can’t raise these children.”

For more information, call 888-30-CRACK or visit

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

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FEATURE: Tucson pooch headed to Westminster show

Tucson dog D’Artagnan has been featured on TV’s “Animal Planet, ” entered and won his first show when he was only 6 months old and has amassed so many ribbons that they probably weigh more than he does.

The 87-pound shaggy star, one of the top five Bouviers des Flandres in the nation, has been invited to the Westminster Kennel Club’s 133rd Annual Dog Show in New York City.

The show, which starts Feb. 9 at Madison Square Garden, is considered the greatest dog show in America, if not the world. The 3-year-old’s first visit to Westminster was two years ago and he made the finals.

Not bad for a dog that was basically born dead.

His handler, Tracy Turner, and his co-owner, Mary Alice Bushey, recall that fateful night all too well.

Mother dog Vinca began giving birth to what Turner and Bushey thought would be five puppies.

Instead there were only two. The female was delivered with no complications. The male needed help from the womb.

“I finally got him out,” said Turner, “and he wasn’t breathing.”

Turner, who has worked with dogs for 25 years and has helped deliver about 100 litters, kept rubbing the puppy’s chest and giving him mouth-to-snout resuscitation.

After more than an hour of that, Bushey said to let the dog go.

Turner refused.

Mom dog Vinca began to have more complications, so the women loaded the dogs into a van to go to the vet.

“By now it’s 5 a.m., I’ve been working for two hours on the puppy and all of a sudden he latches onto the mom’s nipple,” she said. Turner screamed with glee so loudly that Bushey nearly slammed on the brakes.

“He’s never put a foot down wrong since,” Turner said.

Every time D’Artagnan chalks up another win, Turner said, she gets to rub it in that Bushey wanted to let him go.

” ‘Aren’t you glad I saved that dog?’ I ask her.”

D’Artagnan is co-owned by Tucson breeder and Groomingdales Pet Salon owner Bushey and a couple in Phoenix, but he lives with handler Turner.

“He is so devoted to her,” Bushey said. “When I ask him to do something he looks at me almost like he’s flipping me off.”

D’Artagnan, officially known as “Champion Desert Sage Musketeer,” was so named because Turner was watching the movie “The Three Musketeers” when he was born.

His breed is well-known, even by those who don’t think they are familiar with the Bouvier des Flandres.

“Remember the Wile E. Coyote cartoons?” Turner asked. “That watchdog on the hill is a Bouvier des Flandres.”

Bred to herd cattle, the breed is stocky, solid and powerful enough not only to herd cattle to be milked but also to haul the milk wagon once it’s loaded.

But it’s not just power and beauty that make D’Artagnan popular.

“People want to breed him for his attitude,” Turner said. “You can’t bring a kid by him without him rolling on his back and going ‘Pet me, pet me!’ ”

He’s also a certified service dog and a real ham.

“He loves to be at the dog shows,” Bushey said. “He goes into his big metal crate at the show, lies there and watches everybody go by. Then when it’s his turn it’s like, ‘Oh, boy! It’s time to play!’ ”

Turner added, “He turns into Mr. Macho. We have high hopes at Westminster.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2009, issue of the Tucson Citizen.

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