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Who me? Roused by the mention of her name, Tess peeks up from an afternoon nap.

photo:David King

A Dog’s Tale

Kids go to the Albany Public Library to read, and Tess the dog is there to listen

Tess, one of the Albany Public library’s most beloved employees, lies curled up in a ball between two bookcases in the librarians’ workspace, a nook that’s part of the children’s room at the main branch. The library’s most popular reading teacher, Tess occasionally twitches as if far off in some absorbing daydream.

Tess is a dog, and while most dogs might be dreaming of chasing rabbits or a prize bone, this one appears to be reliving the latest adventures of Harry Potter or recalling the prose of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tess’ owner, librarian Jennifer Ward, picks up her appointment book and says, “Let’s see who’s coming to read to Tess today.” Tess peeks up from her afternoon slumber, seemingly in recognition of her name, but looking very much as if she’s saying, “Can’t I sleep just a little longer?”

Every Thursday at 3 PM, Tess gets a break from her chores around the library, such as picking up books and pulling carts, and is visited by schoolchildren who come to read her a book. Tess’s work attire includes a rope around her nose (effectively a muzzle) and a cape that indicates she is working and not to be played with. “She’s very calm. . . . She’s in work mode now, so when I take the cape off, they can rest on her and play with her ears,” says Ward.

Dog reading programs have been popping up all over the country, thanks to Intermountain Therapy Animals of Utah, a nonprofit organization that provides and trains therapy animals. The organization established a training program in 1999 that trains dogs to appear attentive while they are read to, and brings service dogs to libraries to be read to. The group’s program has been used in schools as well. Organizers claim to have seen test scores rise in students who take part in their Reading Education Assistance Dogs program.

Ward says she has seen an increase in reading comprehension as well. According to Ward, reading dogs provide a service to kids that teachers and parents generally cannot. “The dog doesn’t tell the kids, ‘You’re mispronouncing it.’ They never say, ‘Read it over again’ or ‘Why don’t you get a better book to read?’ and [the kids] love it. They take over a stack of books. They may struggle, but they sit there and read. These are kids who in school pray the teacher doesn’t call on them to read.”

Ward says her main concern while kids read to Tess is whether they realize they don’t have to keep reading. “They’ll point to something and they are sure she understands. If I’m listening, I think, oh, that poor child! You don’t have to read any more! But they keep on.” Tess does not go unrewarded for her service. “When the kids are all done,” says Ward, “I have a jar there full of dog biscuits and I let them come take one out and give it to Tess. Of course, Tessie just thinks it is great.”

Tess is finally fully roused from her slumber by Ward’s mention of the word “biscuit.” Although she is up, it is unlikely any kids are coming to read to Tess today because of holiday vacations. Tess looks to her owner for the promised treat as Ward describes the one time Tess’ patience was tried. Ward explains, “Mainly they read stories, but we had one little guy who decided to read Consumer Reports on cars. That’s the day Tess got up and walked away.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

A Bribe by any Other Name

Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful lobbyist, has reached a plea deal with the government and will cooperate with investigations into broad corruption in Congress. Abramoff has agreed to tell prosecutors about bribes to lawmakers and their confidants. The deal has led a number of Republican politicians across the country to donate campaign contributions they received from Abramoff to charity. The Bush campaign has decided to donate only $6,000 in contributions that came directly from Abramoff, although he raised more than $100,000 in total contributions for them.

Google-Mart

Just when you thought the Google world takeover watch had reached its apex, another development makes you wonder when the Internet search engine giant is going to start burning barcodes onto the back of all our heads. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Google soon will announce a deal to distribute a low-cost PC that runs on a Google operating system through a major distributor such as Wal-Mart. Although Google has denied it has any intention to distribute hardware, the rumored price of the PC device is somewhere around a couple hundred dollars. Therefore, Google shareholders could theoretically sell one share of stock to buy two of the rumored units and still have change.

Satirizing the Sacred

The Catholic League has condemned a recent episode of South Park and called for Comedy Central to “pledge that this episode be permanently retired and not be made available on DVD.” The episode has not aired since. Having satirized Scientology in a recent episode and gotten away unscathed, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker used the season finale to take a shot at the Catholic Church’s refusal to let women serve fully in the church. The episode, titled “Bloody Mary,” involved a statue of the Virgin Mary that seemed to be bleeding from its rear. Pope Benedict is called to inspect the statue and declares, “A chick bleeding out her vagina is no miracle. Chicks bleed out their vaginas all the time.”



A voice in the cold: Michael Kink of Housing Works takes a turn at the microphone during the People’s State of the State rally

photo:Chris Shields

Our State, Your State

Annual rhetorical face-off between activists and the governor carries familiar themes, and a look ahead to a Pataki-less era

The irony of the surroundings at the People’s State of the State Rally on Tuesday wasn’t lost on organizer Mark Dunlea.

“This plywood backdrop reminds me of the housing projects in the South End,” remarked Dunlea, knocking on the wood panels covering portions of the architecture on the State Street side of Capitol where the rally was held. As a local television reporter wrapped in a Gucci scarf pushed his way onto one of the few dry perches on the building’s slush-covered steps, Dunlea gestured at the rain and snow falling through a makeshift overhang a few feet away.

“Plywood boards don’t give you much protection from the weather, do they?” he asked. “That’s why it’s always raining on the poor.”

While this 17th edition of the rally, held each year on the day before the governor’s State of the State speech, attracted many of the same faces and organizations, braving similar chilly weather conditions of its predecessors, its organizers stressed that there was one very important difference this time around: “The best news we have for you is that this will be the last year of Governor Pataki’s administration,” Dunlea said.

First conceived as a counterpoint to the rosy assessments of the state’s condition provided by former governor Mario Cuomo’s State of the State speeches, the annual rally has become a tradition for many of the local social support, labor and good-government groups. Although the list of organizations in attendance each year has changed, topics such as universal health care, minimum wage, homelessness and corporate tax loopholes have become a staple of the rallies throughout the last decade.

“The economy does a lot for the Dow Joneses of the world,” remarked Fred Pfeiffer of the Capital District Worker Center, “but what about the Doug Joneses?”

Several speakers acknowledged at least one bright spot in recent state policy, however. While they said the increase in minimum wage taking place over the next two years ($6.75 this year and $7.15 in 2007) is a step in the right direction for lawmakers, they still said it isn’t enough to provide the bare necessities for a small family.

On his way out: Pataki.

photo:Martin Benjamin

The dilemma of how to afford skyrocketing home-heating costs also found its way into this year’s rally, as energy prices have already begun to rise this winter.

Just as speakers have done in the past, rally participants urged state representatives to create a legislative committee charged with exploring various methods of providing affordable health-care coverage for all state residents. A bill that would do so was introduced by Assembly Health Committee chair Richard Gottfried (D-New York City) last legislative session, but never left the Ways and Means Committee. Due to the strong opposition on the federal level to universal, single-payer health-care proposals, many advocates believe that such a system must be implemented on a state-by-state basis in order to gain enough support.

In order to illustrate this reluctance from federal lawmakers, a short skit was put on during the rally, with one participant playing the role of local U.S. Representative John Sweeney (R-Clifton Park). When repeatedly questioned about his notoriously ambiguous stance on universal health care, the faux-Sweeney simply replied, “I’m not so sure Medicare for all is the answer,” over and over again without giving any explanation for his opposition. Later that day, the real Sweeney responded in similar, ambiguous fashion when questioned at an unrelated press conference held in the nearby Legislative Office Building.

“I just haven’t seen a plan that I believe is sustainable,” said Sweeney when asked about his opposition to Congressional universal-health-care proposals.

After all was said and done, however, the focus of all the hubbub—the official State of the State address—actually provided few surprises for organizers of Tuesday’s rally, local media or government watchdogs. Wednesday’s speech lived up to many of the predictions surrounding it, focusing primarily on those aspects of Pataki’s tenure that bolster his credentials as a conservative. Filled with references to past and proposed tax cuts, terrorism protection and business-friendly initiatives, the subject matter of the governor’s speech shifted from a farewell salute to a resumé for Republican presidential candidacy throughout much of the hourlong presentation.

The governor also urged an expansion of the charter-school program to the rest of the state, joined in what has become the standard overexaggeration of sex-offender recidivism rates by politicians hoping to increase their tough-on-crime quotients, and touted his role in achieving last year’s on-time (but incomplete) budget. The governor ended his final State of the State speech with a farewell to those in attendance, making his exit to loud applause—a response that he had already received, just a day earlier, during a rally of a different sort.

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends
To the grave disappointment of the dozens of citizens who turned out for the second Albany Common Council meeting in a row to oppose a rezoning proposal for Holland Avenue [“A Little Highway in the City,” Newsfront, Dec. 8], the measure passed 8 to 5. The rezoning, which turns a lot on Holland from office-commercial to highway-commercial to allow a large Walgreen’s pharmacy to be built there, had strong opposition from the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as from the ward’s council representative, Shawn Morris. The bill was brought to a vote over her objections through a little-used procedural rule. In the public comment period, Craig Waltz of the Helderberg Neighborhood Association raised a question of why a lame-duck council was so eager to move on this bill in the last meeting of the year. Outgoing council members Michael Brown (Ward 3) and Sarah Curry-Cobb (Ward 4) both had pet pieces of legislation (community-center funding and a commuter tax, respectively) that were missing their last chance for air time in favor of this development proposal, Waltz noted. Why the heavy priority on this decision? he asked rhetorically. Brown and Curry-Cobb both voted for the rezoning. Opposing were Morris, Dominick Calsolero (Ward 1), Richard Conti (Ward 6), Mike O’Brien (Ward 9) and Dave Torncello (Ward 8). Dan Herring (Ward 11), who also opposed the change, was not present; neither was Shirley Foskey (Ward 5). Waltz and other neighborhood leaders have already put in motion plans to sue on the grounds that the change is illegal spot zoning.


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