Phineas J. Talon
Phineas J. Talon
Wendy Doscher-Smith

Piece Out

When The Bitch schedules her peregrinations around South Beach to include three parties and some holiday shopping, it is not possible to be fabulously late to each soiree. Paws need to hit the buffet table at the early end of the 7:00-to-10:00 p.m. spectrum if The Bitch is going to dance till dawn. The Bitch wasn't interested in the decadent bonbons (because she hates chocolate) touted at this past Thursday's Saffron Trading International party at the Astor, but there was the promise of champagne and plenty of food, so the pack — which had been whiling away the evening pleasantly enough at The Wolfsonian-FIU Museum and trailing a favorite attractive shopaholic-but-cashier-challenged boy around the Urban Outfitters on Washington Avenue — was damn indignant to not find any food or champagne or even chocolate when arriving at the hotel mid-evening. "Are you here for the party?" Saffron founder Daniel Espinosa asked. "It's really not going to get started until later; it's Miami, you know. You should come back."

Um, okay. Couldn't the dude have even offered a panting dog a bowl of water? Even when The Bitch, ever a completist, returned later, there was still no food or chocolate to be found. And trying to snag a glass of champagne was like fighting for the last Slurpee Maker on the shelf during the Christmas Eve rush at Target.

Even though Andrew Cunanan used a .40 caliber Taurus to take down beloved designer Gianni Versace in 1997, the irony of Casa Casuarina (formerly the Versace mansion) hosting a Smith & Wesson fragrance party this past Saturday night had The Bitch up in arms. While clipboard-holding Zakarin PR reps and beefy security men stood on the steps where the Italian designer took his last breath, lanky models decked in black vinyl and sunglasses were packing heat in the form of flashy cologne bottles strapped into holsters. Nearby, a Speedo-stuffin' male model puckered and posed with hips gyrating as he lifted a giant bottle of the rare, volcanic lime-inspired scent above his head.


Holiday parties

As party people stuffed themselves with sushi and pink, coconut-covered snowballs, a typical, surgically enhanced South Beach couple performed an act that would be familiar to those who recall Jennifer Connelly's final scenes in Requiem for a Dream (to The Bitch's rising disbelief and horror, only inches from the food), and no one seemed to remember that the former owner of the party mansion was killed by, you know, a gun.

Apparently We Don't

"Things are looking pretty damn apocalyptic for South Florida's wildlife." The Bitch howls this all the time — out windows, into wells, across causeways. But this is not just the incessant barking of a green hound. These words come from someone people should actually listen to: Pat Knox, director of the Wee Care Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Homestead. On December 31, Wee Care — the only place in the county that takes in abandoned baby raccoons and crippled opossums — is closing down because of a lack of funding and volunteers.

Not that Wee Care — which at its peak in the late Nineties nurtured 2000 at-death's-door animals in a given year — ever got much in the way of support. Although the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission governed and licensed the animal sanatorium, and the Humane Society, Miami-Dade County Animal Control, law enforcement agencies, and veterinarians referred many animals to Knox, none of those agencies contributed funding. Even those with kind hearts apparently had shallow pockets: "Nine out of ten people who brought animals did not bring a donation," says Knox.

The center has had some significant guests over the years, from a trio of endangered mastiff bats in 1993, to endangered key deer injured by automobiles on U.S. 1 and imperiled by flooding in the Nineties, to more common but no less embattled Nile monitors, kinkajous, and potbellied pigs abandoned by owners.

The 23-year-old center also made sure animals received safe passage after being cured of their ills. Knox took pains to release the animals in places where repeat accidents were unlikely. Birds were let go on-site. Squirrels would be taken to areas with sheltering oak trees. Raccoons traveled by airboat out to the Everglades reservation of the Miccosukee and were deposited on hammocks where they could climb trees and root through bushes unharmed.

Knox taught environmental education at St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School in Kendall for more than 30 years. "Sometimes I would bring nursing baby raccoons with me to school because they had to be bottle-fed every four hours," she recalls. But after her husband Tom had a stroke three years ago, she began running the center alone and retired from teaching.

Her back yard in Homestead, which was once a jungle of cages, is now empty but for one screened structure. Knox refers to it as her "disaster area." Beginning this past September, to make the property more attractive to potential buyers, Knox dismantled the network of habitats she had constructed. The cages where healing squirrels and raccoons were nursed are now gone. Their former inhabitants, The Bitch hopes, lead happier lives in the wild, their onetime sleeping places now marked by patches of dead grass. Other animals — domestic rejects, including 24 parrots — have been placed in responsible homes.

All that remain are what Knox calls "educational animals," an African gray parrot named Whoopie, Priscilla the opossum, a small family of unbelievably cute dewy-eyed marsupials called sugar gliders, and a few others who accompany her when she visits classrooms. The dozen or so cold-blooded animals — turtles, tortoises, and snakes — are inside the house, sheltered from temperature variables.

Who will The Bitch call when her furry and feathered friends get hit by cars, fly into windows, or tangle themselves in wire? "I don't know," says Knox, who is moving to the Englewood area on Florida's west coast, where her daughter lives. "It bothers me. It really bothers me."


For those who take umbrage at the willful disintegration of Miami's only daily newspaper, The Bitch has identified a new outrage. Judy Miller, the Aqua Lady's managing editor for features and news, is being shipped out to "create and test an interdivisional training program," according to an e-mail sent this past Monday to Herald staff. No, not that Judy Miller, you weapons-of-mass-destruction-obsessed loon! This one was president of the prestigious Investigative Reporters and Editors, among the highest-ranking openly gay newsroom leaders in the Southeast, and editor of the Herald series "Vote Fraud," which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Problem is, she drew the ire of some newsroom staff, according to sources too shy to give their names. (Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler didn't return a call seeking comment on Tuesday afternoon.) To this non-fool-suffering canine, the decision is worse than the firing of Jim DeFede. Miller has a keen mind, good news judgement, and little patience for dullards. So, crusaders, scrape those "Free Tibet" stickers off of your Escalade bumpers, and head for the Herald. It's Miller time.

Forever in Debt to Your Priceless Advice

Like the Messiah, whose birth we celebrate this week, and also Prince, The Bitch would die for you. But first she has an appropriately depressing holiday poll. If you, like Mr. Versace, were about to bite the bullet, who is the last person you'd want to speak with? And what would you say? Send the dog of death your thoughts, and your answers will be printed in a forthcoming column.

Coming in January: J.D. Salinger

Beginning this past May, publisher Elena Carpenter merged her three publications — Coconut Grove Times, Brickell Post, and South Miami Times — into Miami Monthly, a glossy compendium of civic-minded blather. The December issue includes columns by the president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau — William D. Talbert III — and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez.

Carpenter, sniffed out by The Bitch for a general inquiry about the revamped pub, is clearly proud of almost everything in her new mag. But she is particularly puffed up about landing a certain prominent scribe to pen a year-ender. Upon receiving The Bitch's call, Carpenter asked, unprompted and allowing an ample pause (during which the jaded dog stretched and yawned rather than responding with the clearly expected shock and awe): "Are you calling to ask me about Jim DeFede writing for us?"

Um, actually no. Well at least not at first. But then The Bitch got her dew claws on the December issue, which includes a Carpenter column gushing over the former New Times and Miami Herald muckraker ("Whether I agreed or not, he always made me think. And that is a beautiful thing."). Next to the column, Carpenter ran a full-page ad promoting DeFede's freelance piece (a year-end review), boldly titled "Jim DeFede, Uncensored."

"It's nice to be back in print, but I sort of laughed when I saw the ad. It's both flattering and way over-the-top," DeFede somewhat shyly admits.

The Bitch understands that many humans enjoy DeFede's work and have subsequently embarked upon an all-out, no-holds-barred effort to protest Herald editor Tom Fiedler's decision to fire the columnist. But please, people, enough. Go rent Veronica Guerin from Netflix. Even DeFede is a bit flummoxed by the surfeit of support.

"I was a little surprised by some of it. And some of it was misplaced. But it's part of the reason why I decided to stay in South Florida after I was fired," he sighs. "Unfortunately Miami only has the one daily paper, so I've been trying to stay busy developing some other projects, a little writing, and some TV and radio work."

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

Writer-photographer (and, The Bitch adds, a great friend to stray and needy dogs) Wendy Doscher-Smith describes a recent quill-raising adventure at her 123rd Street North Miami high-rise: "On Friday night while I was writing out Christmas cards and having my annual holiday pity party, this winged creature swooped right onto the railing here on our twelfth-floor balcony.

"His wingspan was about seven feet. I nearly fell off of my chair watching him. This bald eagle hung around all night, preening and swiveling his head to tuck his massive don't-even-think-of-messing-with-me beak into his back plumage to sleep.

"I really had to resist assuming the role of a good hostess and venturing out to offer a mug of hot cocoa and a warm bed, but Phineas J. Talon, as I took to calling him, looked as if he wanted to be left alone. Forget rottweilers. What people need to protect them from all the harms of suburbia is a predatory bird.

"Anyway, Phineas must have liked his accommodations, minimal as they were, because he slept in and was still on our balcony ledge Saturday at 7:00 a.m. He did not seem to mind us, our neighbors, my camera, or any of our canine gang gawking at him through the glass. I guess that is what happens when you are the top raptor, as he could have carried most of us away in those yellow talons, but when some crows sniffed around, he got all pissy and took off.

"I already miss him."


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