Please check out my classmate’s blog on animals. She is a passionate animal lover like myself and spends her spare time advocating for their well-being.

She linked my post on Rascal in her most recent post so I wanted to give her a shout out!

Amanda Talks Animals (and Volunteerism)


So I was looking over all my past stories written this semester and I came to a conclusion: I’ve spent a lot of time in grocery stores whether it was for interviewing purposes or taking pictures for a multimedia project.

And they were each quite interesting to say the least with valuable lessons learned at the end.

For one story, I needed perspectives from every-day people, not just the bigwigs at the top. Rather, I needed to know if the residents were even aware of something the county was doing.

So, where’s an easy place to find county residents? The grocery store, of course! So off to some grocery stores in Jefferson I went–to Kroger, Food Lion, and Bells to be exact–two days in a row.

I was that creepy girl with the notebook, but no cart or basket, literally stalking the aisles for a resident who looked friendly. I was terrified to talk to any one. How do I approach them? What do I ask them? How do I keep them from throwing things at me?!

Of course the first person I approached refused to give his name and told me “the less you give the government, the better.” Apparently, he thought I was a part of that government despite being told otherwise. The next two people I spoke with were not from Jackson County, but were quite friendly.

After I finally found someone from Jackson County who was willing to talk, the “stalking” became easier and I felt like a lioness hunting for her prey (only not to kill, but, to interview instead).

I did this again the following day and found that most of the residents were more than willing to talk to me. Heck, some even started asking me questions I hadn’t thought of myself!

Lesson learned: Like Nike says, “Just Do It!” Don’t hesitate, just go right up and start talking even if you are sweaty and nervous. The more you wait, the harder it becomes and the more you psyche yourself out.

But make them aware you aren’t soliciting anything, because people don’t want to be told to do or buy something. They will either say yes or no–it’s a 50/50 chance and I luckily had great odds!

And those interviews ended up making the story what it was and probably were one of the reasons it got published (link for story can be found in previous post or here).

Now my second time at a grocery store per assignment was for photographic reasons: I needed shots of various prescription discount programs offered.

I had previously been to Wal-mart and Target so naturally I thought Kroger would be okay.

This was a Kroger store in Athens, not Jefferson. In I went taking pictures of signs, programs, and found someone in line who agreed to talk to me and have his picture taken. I asked if I could wait with him until his prescriptions were ready. He agreed.

So I wandered throughout the store waiting and taking more pictures.

Little did I know management wasn’t too happy. Why should I? There were no issues with Wal-mart or Target. Why would Kroger be any different?

My mistake.

First a regular store worker approached me with questions and then the store manager came up. She asked my reasons for being in the store and when I would be done. I was further directed to go online for any additional information regarding Kroger stores. When I explained the story to her and, thus, my reasons for taking pictures in the store–I even showed her ALL the pictures so she didn’t think I was lying–the manager allowed me to stay and (fortunately) finish my photo shoot.

I understand their need to keep things positive and ensure no one is actively seeking out negative publicity under their noses. As the manager put it, “If someone comes in and does something that negatively reflects on Kroger while I’m on duty, I’m in trouble.”

I totally get it.

Big companies live and breathe on positive publicity (although there is the saying negative publicity is better than no publicity) and I had no desire to give them bad publicity, but it also wasn’t my job to make them look great either.

What is telling is that Kroger was the only one of the 3 big companies where I photographed that a manager approached me with questions. The others were no where in sight or if they were, they didn’t care.

I just wanted pictures for a darn slideshow and I’m just elated that I wasn’t thrown out kicking and screaming or that I wasn’t forced to delete them all!

Lesson learned: approach management first and ask permission before going forward. It will save you an awkward conversation and probably prevent that sick, empty feeling you get when you think you’ve lost it all…

working on updating the slideshow in which these pictures appeared. Once it is completed, I will post it here.

so while these events turned out for the positive, here’s looking forward to spending my next time in a grocery store actually buying groceries!

Here is the link to a story I wrote published in The Jackson Herald of Jackson County, Georgia the last week of March. It made it on the inside front page! I was quite proud, but forgot to post it on here…so now I am.

It is about Jackson County’s new emergency notification system which was only 5 months old at the time of reporting. The system sends out text and email alerts to cell phones in addition to automatic calls to landlines, but not all residents were aware of the system. You must read to get all the information. I’m not going to give it all away here!

UPDATES at bottom of page
Two days ago, my beloved 2 year-old orange tabby, Rascal, unexpectedly died. He was an energetic kitty with a healthy appetite, and most importantly, 100% healthy. In fact, just a month prior, he had a check-up at the vet who confirmed he was healthy–just needed to lose a little weight.

So, naturally, when he didn’t show for the morning feeding, I was a little concerned. I thought that maybe he was still sleeping somewhere so I took a shower. While showering, my other cat, Samson, scratched at the door in a manner he never has done before. After the shower, I walked around calling his name and looking in all his favorite places–no Rascal.

I found him in my linen closet in a position that indicated he died in his sleep. Of course, I thought he was still asleep because I couldn’t see his face so I poked and shook him and got no reaction. I then saw his face: eyes open, tounge out. He was dead.

With monthly Revolution treatments, prescription weight-loss food, and rabies vaccinations, what could be the cause? After the vet confirmed he was in fact dead (I wanted to be 100% sure), I decided to have an autopsy on Rascal.

Around 1:30, I got the results from the autopsy. Everything was healthy-the heart, the lungs, the liver, the kidneys, etc. There was nothing in his stomach or small intestine.

Then he opened his large intestine and found liriope and tons of it inside.

Liriope is a border plant that looks a lot like grass and is common in most Southern yards. Apparently, the plant is toxic to cats and dogs. This is what he believes killed Rascal, because it is in the lily family and all lily plants are toxic to cats.

the plant Liriope

But he wasn’t sure if it was a cumulation of eating it over days or a combination of the plant and some pesticide possibly sprayed on the plant (the apartment grounds’ owners had just done ground maintenance the day before his death).

So naturally, I was worried about my other cat who I’d seen nibble on the plant himself. I took him to the vet when picking up Rascal’s body to have his body flushed with solution that would dilute any possible toxins and push them out.

So what does this have to do with human health, you may ask?

Directly, nothing. Indirectly, everything.

If you are a pet owner, they become not only your companions or best friends, they also become a part of your family. Several research studies have confirmed that animal companions relieve our stress, calm us when upset, and, in general, make us overall happier and healthier people.

I knew this first hand when a few days ago, I was on the verge of tears and a nervous breakdown. I received some feedback on an assignment that upset and frustrated me. I spent so much time and energy on this assignment and expected some form of positive feedback, but, alas, nothing. On top of other frustrations, time constraints, and internship obligations, I was losing it.

But, as always, Rascal was sitting next to me, purring loudly with his head rested on my lap. He was content with the world. I petted him as a natural reaction and I could literally feel the stress and frustration decrease. His mere presence calmed me and allowed me to push through my irritations and deal with it.

So naturally, his death caused an emotional breakdown that is unhealthy mentally. I have been a wreck for two days which has gotten in the way of my productivity. We were given an extension on assignments to today at 6 pm, but have done nothing. If I wasn’t numb and asleep from the xanax, I was crying because of everything that reminded me of him.

I also felt a bit of guilt, because I allowed him outside for fresh air about 10 minutes a day. I watched him eat this plant that I thought nothing harmful about it–it looks like grass!

So I did some research: I googled plants that are toxic to cats and found this
link on the ASPCA website.

There are nearly 400 (397 to be exact) plants that are toxic to cats alone and almost the same amount toxic to dogs! How is one supposed or expected to know all this?

My landlord is looking into the possibility of pesticide sprayed on the plants Tuesday (the day before he died)when they were doing ground maintenance. I am waiting to hear back.

what I heard from landlord and others at bottom

This is not to scare or deter pet owners from taking your pets outdoors. It is simply a cautious tale to be more aware of what your pet does while outside.

Pets mean a lot to their owners and their deaths (expected or unexpected) deeply affect us. I learned something from this terrible incident and I hope others can use this information to possibly prevent the death of a beloved pet and retain their own mental and emotional health in the process.

Rascal is buried in my family’s pet cemetery overlooking a pond with his favorite toy and blanket. Now he is forever in the outdoors where he always longed to be.

He will always be remembered and loved.

RIP Rascal.

Rascal with his favorite toy, a chirping bird that was buried with him

UPDATE: I heard back and he says pest control uses Bifenthrin and landscaping uses Trimex Southern and Surflan, but the landscapers last sprayed over a month ago and their sprays are not harmful to pets. I could not confirm when pest control last sprayed, but I did find out that Bifenthrin is toxic to kitties!

However it must be absorbed through the skin to be toxic and so cats have to be exposed to it over an extended period of time in order for it to have effect…symptoms include uncontrolled muscle tremors/spasms and seizures. Rascal never exhibited these symptoms.

here is an excerpt on bifenthrin and other pyrethroids via

Pyrethroids are synthetic pyrethrins and are probably the most commonly sold OTC pesticides one sees on the shelves today. These have an advantage of being even a bit less toxic than pyrethrins (still toxic to cats, though!) and less insect resistance. There are dozens of pyrethroids on market now (presumably in an attempt to stay a bit ahead of the insect resistance problem). Just about any poison that ends in ‘thrin’ is a pyrethroid (eg. Permethrin, Bifenthrin, Cyfluthrin, Resmethrin etc.). Esfenvarerate and fenvarelate are about the only pyrethroids that don’t follow that rule. Both are used in common garden pesticide formulations as well. Fortunately most pyrethroids are not that easily absorbed through the skin as are pyrethrins. Still, excessive exposure to these products by cats will result in poisonings, with the primary symptoms being uncontrolled muscle tremors and seizures. And both pyrethrins and pyrethroids are highly toxic to both birds and fish. Pet birds have a particularly efficient respiratory system that unfortunately works against them when exposed to aerosolized formulations of these products, and they can be make them quite ill (neurologically) or kill them. There are no antidotes for either pyrethrins or pyrethroids, but most animals will recover with symptomatic treatment and supportive care. But still use these products with caution!

BUT then I find out from a veternarian (via my professor) who analyzes toxins in animals that liriope isn’t as toxic as most vets think, but it’s actually due to a pesticide sprayed on the plant

hmmmmm……where to go from here??

From April 14-17, I attended the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Philadelphia, PA with six other journalism graduate students from the University of Georgia and our professor/acting editor.

We were treated to several speeches, workshops, and interactive panel sessions. Those sessions ranged over various topics from Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) to public polling, highway safety to telemedicine, and the future of nursing to antibiotic resistance, and many, many more. Because there were only 4 session time slots each day and at least 3 sessions per time slot, I wasn’t able to make it to all of them.

Some were extremely interesting and helpful for writers (especially start-ups like myself) like the one entitled “Freelance writers: what editors wish writers knew.” Although I’m not a freelance writer (yet), I got a lot out of it–best ways to pitch a story for the web or a magazine (things to avoid/include), the overused story topics and the underused story topics, typical cost estimates, and the importance of knowing your reader.

Some were quite informative in the information revealed like “The Intersection of highway safety and public health,” where I learned that the National Transportation Safety Board has a “most wanted list” of recommendations for states. However, not all states are adhering to those recommendations. Here in Georgia, the lawmakers are a bit more progressive than other states and have implemented most of the recommendations although there are some areas where Georgia could improve, like the elimination of hardcore drinking.

Additionally, I learned some very interesting information about distracted driving from Jake Nelson, Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy at AAA. According to Mr. Nelson, only 3% of crashes caused by distracted driving involve cell phones. Furthermore, over half of that 3% is simply based on the cell phone being inside the car so it may not actually have been in use during the crash. I found this very interesting given the recent abundance of campaigns against talking and texting on the phone. I’m currently writing a piece on this so more to come later.

And some sessions were just…well…confusing. The one on ACOs left me more confused than I was going into it which is weird since I knew NOTHING about these organizations before the session. However one of the panelists, Jenny Gold, said something I loved. It was a metaphor for ACOs involving unicorns: “like a unicorn, we all know what they should look like, but don’t know what it actually looks like.”

My thoughts exactly.

Highlights: free food and drinks (always a plus) and nice conversations

Downsides: temperature. You’d think the hotel was hanging meat in a freezer since it was so cold.

Mental note for next time: pack blankets and not just thin, cotton cardigans.

Over on PsychCentral, Chato B. Stewart discusses “triggers” and the media coverage of the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan on his blog “Mental Health Humor.”

Triggers are anything that is activated by the 5 senses that allows a person to recall a tragic event or flashback to that event and thus may cause them distress. Stewart’s argument is that the constant media coverage and social media live updates have created instant, continuous triggers that could do harm to our mental stability over time causing depression, anxiety, or stress. Avoiding the media altogether is not the point, because it’s beneficial to stay updated on current events. However, it is the extreme, overexposure that is key. Ongoing exposure may make us sad and feel useless that we can’t help, thus causing a variety of mental health concerns, although none extremely serious.

Is this a valid concern? Do people’s emotional reactions to tragic events like the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti trigger memories or thoughts that might have harmful effects on them? What if the person has no recollection of a tragic event and thus has no triggered memories? Would the coverage still make them sad, depressed, or, possibly outraged? Perhaps, initially, because the event is new, fresh, and on everyone’s minds and the emotional punch is heavy.

But what about the constant news coverage, tweets, blog posts, and Facebook pages that pop up everywhere you turn with the pictures, videos, and sad stories? Does it continue to affect you like Stewart argues or, could it go the other way and desensitize a person to the point that he feels nothing?

I’m no mental health expert, nor do I pretend to be, so I can’t give a definite answer. I can give my thoughts, however. It seems that Stewart’s argument would make sense among those who have suffered a similar fate or know someone who did. The event sets off a tragic memory causing all kinds of varied emotions which could have impacts on their mental health.

For the average person who hasn’t experienced something like a natural disaster, the initial viewing and maybe a couple more after will probably make him sad, upset, angry,etc. However, the abundance of information and constant exposure following those initial breaking news stories may become so repetitive or monotonous to the audience that it loses its initial emotional punch. Sure, people may continue to be sad or angry, but does it affect their daily lives or cause harm to their mental health? Probably not, but again, I’m not an expert.

To read Stewart’s full article go here.

Since I recently visited the Public Health Preparedness Summit in Atlanta, I thought this comment on media tactics by Gavin Becker regarding the reporting of Disaster Preparedness was interesting:

These are stories where TV news people cannot lose. They ask hospitals or public health officials or the utility company or the fire department if they can handle a disaster of X magnitude. If the response is yes, they just keep upping the disaster magnitude until the response is no.

Here’s an example from NBC News: “A survey of 30 hospitals in four states and Washington, D.C., found them ill-equipped to handle a widespread biological disaster.” A guaranteed fear-inducer, pokes right at our insecurity. First off, just asking the question implies that a “widespread disaster” is coming, and it’s even better if the survey was part of a “new study,” because that implies that the question itself is well founded.

Either way, the basic premise of the story is true: If hospitals currently able to handle 500 patients an hour get 5000 patients in some terrible hour, they will be unprepared. The standard of care will drop. Is there something surprising about that? Do TV news writers think Americans assume there is some extra team of 200 doctors and an extra 5000 fully-equipped hospital beds waiting in their community somewhere just out of sight?

Indeed, hospitals are unprepared for that which they have never had to be prepared. Being able to deal with what predictably comes down the pike and putting your resources where they are most likely to be needed is good planning. An emergency room would have to trade some daily-used resource to be ready for mass casualties that don’t appear to be coming. Yes, as the world changes and events change, so does preparation – but expecting hospitals to be fully prepared, for example, to treat thousands of inhalation anthrax casualties when there’s been a few lethal cases in 30 years would constitute bad planning.

One can make an “unprepared” story about anything; America’s police are unprepared for a “widespread crime disaster;” our supermarkets are unprepared for a “widespread food shortage.” It all depends upon how you define the word widespread. Put a microphone in some official’s face and ask if he’s adequately prepared for an attack on the harbor by Godzilla, and you’ve got an unreadiness story.

Of course, the author discusses many media tactics in reporting, but this seemed the most relevant. For further reading about media tactics in sensational reporting, go here:

It’s an interesting read and quite amusing at times!

Assessing Public Health System Preparedness to Strengthen Capacity, Adaptation, Response, and Resilience
Glen P. Mays, PhD, MPH, University of Arkansas
Sam Stebbins, MD, MPH, University of Pittsburgh
Craig Hedberg, PhD, University of Minnesota
Michael A. Stoto, PhD, Georgetown University
Presenters in this session assessed how local and state health departments performed during recent emergency situations.
Sam Stebbins said that many health departments came close to melting down during the H1N1 panic of 2009.  During a crisis, health officials take on many additional roles: they become ambassadors to the public and to regional, national, and international agencies they seldom interact with under normal circumstances.
The danger of this is that unusual demands can push aside the normal functions of the local health department. He came up with a 5-point scale for rating how stressed a local health department became during a crisis. Although the goal is not to pass stage 3, where normal routines change for everyone in the department, he found that H1N1 caused all staff members to be reassigned to new roles and responsibilities. In fact, they almost hit stage 5, the point where all normal roles cease.
This revealed new information about health department capacities, much as an EKG measures cardiac function. “You get a better reading of the heart if it is put under stress, and you get a better reading of public health departments when they are stressed by emergencies,” he said.
Stoto’s research also concerned health department responses to the 2009 H1N1 panic. He analyzed the after-action reports that health departments are required to file after emergency responses. He found that these reports are not as useful as they might be because local agencies were confused about how and when they should be completed. They’ll yield more useful information if the CDC and other federal authorities provide more specific guidelines for completion.
Hedberg took a different approach, using a retrospective cohort analysis to examine performance of  first responders in Minnesota. He compared responses to foodborne and infectious diseases with rare events such as bridge collapses and floods. He found that public health agencies get practice with incidents such as foodborne infections, and are able to act on what they learn.  Rare catastrophes, such as bridge collapse, are so unusual that lessons learned don’t carry over to future events.
Mays examined geographic variations in preparedness capacity across communities. He found that larger health jurisdictions such as state health departments tend to perform better because they have more experience than smaller agencies in dealing with emergencies.

Health & Medical Issues

February 15, 2011

Hello world!

February 15, 2011

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!