The Humane HEART
The connection that led to the formation of the Humane HEART happened because of a sad occurrence: A little dog named JoJo was bludgeoned by the angry boyfriend of JoJo's owner, Terry Buck. JoJo died. The assailant, an Emergency Medical Technician, was charged with aggravated cruelty to an animal, and was convicted in the District Court in Jefferson Parish. The conviction was overturned in the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, with one judge of the three-judge panel, Judge Sol Gothard, dissenting. The prosecutor in the case, Ellen Fantaci, motioned for reconsideration, which was granted, although such motions rarely are.
Animal activist Pinckney Wood put out the word for people to contact the court about the case. Another activist, Rosanne Tarantolo, informed Wood that she was able to speak on the phone with one of the judges: Judge Gothard. Wood called the judge himself, which was the beginning of an enduring acquaintance between the two. Judge Gothard was impressed with Wood's knowledge of animal-related law.
The conviction in the case was reinstated, due to the skill and perseverance of Ms. Fantaci, and Judge Gothard's perception of the seriousness of cruelty to an animal. Later, Ms. Buck urged Wood to help her seek the revocation of the asailant's EMT license. The Louisiana Nursing Board held a hearing, dis-allowed direct testimony from Buck or Wood, and declined to revoke the license.
[Note: In 1995, Wood had drafted and worked for passage of the aggravated cruelty law which was authored by State Representative Garey Forster, and under which the conviction was obtained in the case. That law was the second such law in the nation, and is still the toughest. Incidentally, the connection between Representative Forster and Pinckney Wood began in 1984 when Representative Forster authored Louisiana's felony dog fighting statute at the request of Wood who was at that time the co-founder (with the help of Nita Hemiter) and coordinator of NOAH, the New Orleans Animal Humane Group, one of the first activist groups in the state, and probably the first that addressed animal issues beyond the realm of dogs and cats: farm animal reform, wildlife issues, etc. Also, in 1995, Representative Forster, in response to a letter from Wood, authored Louisiana's revised pet theft law which included, at Wood's suggestion, the recognition, in sentencing, of the emotional bond between the pet and the person with whom the pet is bonded. This precedent-setting concept has been copied beyond Louisiana; first in the State of New Jersey. Louisiana's law made the theft of a dog a felony, and a felony in the case of other animals depending upon the circumstances. Formerly, only dogs were covered, and the maximum penalty was a fine of $300.]
The Humane HEART was formed as a result of the efforts of Judge Charlotte White. After meeting Pinckney Wood (an advocate for social justice: primarily for the protection of animals and children) she used her social skills to bring together the three persons that were to become the core of the Humane HEART: Wood, a teacher of science and mathematics, Judge Sol Gothard, 5th Circuit Court of Appeal (senior Louisiana judge in terms of longevity "on the bench", and developer and presenter of "Animal Abuse and Child Abuse: Psychological and Legal Implications"), and Dr. Gerald Berenson, Director of the Tulane Center for Cardiovascular Health (and famous for his long-term heart health study: the Bogalusa Heart Study, and developer of "Health Ahead/Heart Smart", a guide to heart health for children).
One of the first projects was to coordinate the planning, promoting, and directing of "2000: Year of the Humane Child"; an event in a "trade show" format covering many and various topics: from kindness toward and reliance upon animals, to the smuggling of contraband animal products.
Efforts to get Dr. Berenson's "Heart Smart" program, that teaches about and promotes a healthy lifestyle for children, into New Orleans area schools was unsuccessful. It is difficult to establish and maintain new programs in schools. However, Dr. Berenson, independently, has gotten schools in his own Washington Parish, the location for his Bogausa Heart Study, to use the program.
Both Dr. Berenson and Judge Gothard hold Tulane University professorships, and each has been honored numerous times for their experience and accomplishments. Judge Gothard participated in 2000: Year of the Humane Child; and he and Wood were the initial vice-chairman and chairman, respectively, of the Governor's Animal Welfare Commission, which was created in 2001 by the Legislature. Wood envisioned the concept and did the initial draft for the legislation which was authored by State Representave Melinda Schwegman.
While there have been a number of significant accomplishments under the banner of the Humane HEART over the past decade since its inception see Actions and Campaigns, the organization itself has remained static. However, the Humane HEART has benefited from the participation of a few valued associates. And, of course, there was Hurricane Katrina. The domicile of the Humane HEART (in New Orleans) was destroyed by the Katrina flood. Wood, the Humane HEART president, was also devastated by the flood at his residence in Lakeview. Still, Humane HEART related work in legislation, attempting to resolve alleged cruelty situations, rescues, helping animals and people in need, etc. has been continuing under Wood's hand.
Dr. Berenson is active as the Director of the Tulane Center for Cardiovascular Health, and in teaching at Tulane. And Judge Gothard, who also teaches at Tulane in the Graduate School of Social Work, is currently devoting his time to commentaries on the inadequacies of family court, and as Commander of the fastest growing Jewish veterans group in the nation: The Jules Lazard Post 580 of the Jewish War Veterans of America in New Orleans. Judge Gothard is a WWII U.S. Army veteran. [See Judge Gothard on video.]
Outstanding activists that have worked with the Humane HEART include: the beneficent Ulla Cloak, dedicated cat rescuers Sheri Burtch, Karen Young (of SPAYMART), Melody Reagan, and Suzy Critchfield, animal rescuer and advocate Anita Piez, Pot-bellied pig rescuer Jeannette Ferro, long-time Humane HEART associate and enduring animal advocate Dr. James Riopelle, and animal-saint Maria Alvarez. Former LA/SPCA director Laura Maloney and East Baton Rouge Parish animal control director Hilton Cole also have worked cooperatively with the Humane HEART; she in a large-scale cat rescue, and both she and he in legislation.