Canine Killer

Riptide probes 15 weird deaths at the animal shelter.

On the Scent of a Canine Killer

Filed under: News

On the eve of last week's cold snap, Sara Pizano passed through the gate leading to an outdoor wing of Miami-Dade Animal Services and began cooing to the caged pooches.

"Oh! I love this one!" the petite shelter director said as she stopped to greet a tail-wagging shepherd mix. Then to a wide-eyed, shivering mutt, she added, "We're gonna bring you inside tonight, sweetie."

The scene was far less benign a month ago along this corridor, where dogs with respiratory illnesses are quarantined. On February 4, shelter employees arrived to find a half-dozen lifeless dogs lying in pools of blood. The animals had hemorrhaged to death from the lungs. "They looked like towels soaked in blood — every piece of lung," Pizano says.

Another six dogs with similar symptoms were euthanized over the next 48 hours. And three more that had already been adopted also perished — bringing the total to 15.

Although the epidemic has passed, veterinarians are still baffled. They determined the cause of death to be a mutated form of Streptococcus zooepidemicus, a common, typically harmless bacteria. "What's unclear is how it got into the lungs and became toxic," Pizano says.

"The bacteria itself is not uncommon, but its behavior was uncommon," says Kate Hurley, director of the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which was sent tissue samples from the infected dogs. "The major problem in this case is how rapidly it acts."

The mutated epidemicus, as Hurley refers to the bug, was implicated in the deaths of more than 1,000 dogs at a Las Vegas shelter in February 2007 and among racing greyhounds in the UK last month.

She adds the disease seems confined to "dense housing situations [where] there is a high proportion of animals coming in with other diseases" — places like Miami.

Could it eventually threaten dog's best friend?

"It's important to understand [the mutation]," Hurley says, "for controlling diseases we know about, as well as diseases we don't want to know about." Frank Houston


Vodou Visionary

Filed under: Culture

In a gallery space above Haitian restaurant Tap Tap on South Beach, Carol de Lynch, a Haitian artist and vodou priestess, is standing in front of one of her masterpieces: a colorful painting of what looks like two snakes and an egg awash in sparkly green hues. "These are all going to the national museum in Haiti," she says.

By the time you read this, Lynch will have already returned to Haiti. She lived in the Magic City for several years, and she left a little something behind: a deck of vodou tarot cards. The cards are illustrated with her paintings of saints and symbols and, along with a book (in Kreyol) that explains the deck, are sold at Tap Tap and a few botanicas in Little Haiti.

View a selection of the Vodou cards here.

Lynch explains that in the vodou religion, priests and priestesses often use tarot and playing cards during readings and predictions. Lynch, who is 52 but looks 10 years younger in a colorful fruit-print skirt and lime green shirt, says the vodou world should embrace its heritage, not hide behind a construct of modern society. "I'm an educator," she says. "I want my people to know what our true story is."

Vodou, Lynch says, is not the stuff of Hollywood movies. Indeed there are no push-pin dolls anywhere in her art. There are also no Catholic saints, who were used as a cover for African vodou deities by slaves brought to Haiti in the 18th Century. "Now we're free. It's time for my people to stop using Catholic saints," Lynch says. "It's time to embrace our heritage." Tamara Lush


The Lonely Dissenter

Filed under: News

Bay of Pigs grenadier Mario Cabello used to wake up sweating, with images of Cuban militiamen firing through his mind. A few years ago, he discovered he had posttraumatic stress disorder. He's not alone; nightmares have chased other exile fighters of the botched 1961 invasion.

But Cabello might be lonely in another sense: He's just about the only Bay of Pigs vet to publicly disapprove of the drive to raise money to construct a five-story Bay of Pigs museum and library on a slice of downtown waterfront. He calls the effort "grotesque."

The 65-year-old points to homelessness, depression, and suicide among veterans — all of which could stem from PTSD — as much more deserving of monetary attention.

"First, we should identify those who may need our help, our brothers," he says. "Forget about building a museum. Take care of your people first."

Aging fighters have faced a dearth of aftercare. They don't have access to national veterans care services, though exiles continue to press politicians for it — even lobbying Republican presidential frontrunner Sen. John McCain during his Miami stump.

William Muir-Celorio, executive director of the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library, says dollars raised to build a museum can't be diverted. He says Brigade 2506, housed in the Little Havana Bay of Pigs museum, tries to help veterans when it can.

"We have been taking care of people in need but, in most cases, very quietly," Muir-Celorio says. "But we are not [Veterans Affairs]. We, as the brigade, don't have those kinds of resources."

This is not the first time Cabello and other Bay vets have sparred. He was unanimously expelled from the brigade association in 2001 after he returned to Cuban shores with a plan to recover the remains of those who died or went missing in the 1961 battle. Janine Zeitlin

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