Offbeat stories: Halloween rent-a-cats

Spending 12 years writing for United Press International certainly honed my interest in finding offbeat and unusual stories, especially if they meshed somehow with a particular holiday or news event. As Halloween approached in the early 90s, I decided to call the local Humane Society to see if there were any black cat-related things going on. Sure enough, I found this story –people calling the Humane Society to see if they could rent black cats for their Halloween parties.

Pet adoptions have been a little slow at the Humane Society of North Pinellas, but the phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from people who want to rent cats for Halloween parties.

But even though the Humane Society has about 50 cats, none of them are for rent, not now and not ever, according to Rick Chaboudy, the Humane Society’s director.

“I think people are getting into more elaborate Halloween parties and they try to think of everything,” Chaboudy said. “We try to explain we don’t do things like that – it would be a tremendous amount of stress on the cat, plus we don’t want to give the impression we approve of activities like that.

“We are here to find permanent homes for our cats, not to rent them out as decorations.”

For some cats, particularly black ones, the season can be dangerous.

Connie Goy suspects that someone tried to skin her black cat, Calvin, alive as a gruesome Halloween prank.

When Mrs. Goy returned from the grocery store Thursday afternoon, she found Calvin lying in a pool of blood in the garage. Her other cat, Hobbes, was at his side, meowing and tapping Calvin, who was still alive, with his paw.

“Hobbes was . . . meowing real loud like, `He’s hurt. Can you do something?’ ” said Mrs. Goy, 30. “I started crying.”

One of Calvin’s hind legs had a precise cut, 1 inch long, according to the veterinarian, Dr. Gursaear Singh. It had severed an artery in his right leg. Mrs. Goy and her husband, David, rushed Calvin to All Pet Care Hospital & Animal Inn where he was recovering Friday.

The cut, Mrs. Goy said, was too exact for Calvin to have injured himself.

“About this time of year you never know. It’s just sad that there are people that would do such a thing,” Mrs. Goy said. “It makes me sick.”

The interest in using the Humane Society as a sort of Rent-A-Cat agency is a fairly new twist, Chaboudy said. Calls inquiring about renting cats have been steadily increasing during the past few Octobers. About a half-dozen such calls have come into the Humane Society during the past week, he said.

“It has to be black, and they seem to think if they call early enough they can reserve one,” he said. “And it’s funny – some people feel a little foolish after we turn them down, but others act put out that we won’t accommodate them. They say things like, `Well, we aren’t going to hurt it’ or `We’ll bring it back afterwards’ – like we’re wrong in not letting this happen.”

Even if the Humane Society did rent cats, Halloween party-givers probably would be a little disappointed at the present selection. Chaboudy said of the 50 or so cats, none of them are completely black.

“We do have a few black-and-white cats, but that’s as close as they come,” he said. “If we did have black cats right now, we might not put them out for adoption until Halloween was over.”

And as for Calvin, whether his injuries are Halloween-related or not, Mrs. Goy said, he’ll spend the rest of his days indoors.

“He’s going to be a house cat from now on.”


Investigative journalism: The story of David Riggs

Some newspaper people believe that ALL journalism is investigative journalism. There’s some truth to that. But stories like this one are different and require much more work than most. This particular story was about a very unusual man who got himself in trouble over and over again as he pursued big dreams, many of them not exactly legal. It required weeks of work and many interviews. I found out recently that the man, David Riggs, died a couple of years ago, plunging his jet plane into a lake in China. Things hadn’t changed very much for him. For what it’s worth, I’m very proud of this story, which I wrote for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. You better go get a cup of coffee, it’s REALLY long…


Staff Writer

A convicted bank swindler who says he moved to Tampa to start a new life in the video post-production industry has left a trail of unpaid bills, angry suppliers and disillusioned business associates.

In the three years since David Riggs came to Tampa from Atlanta, he has become involved in at least three post-production companies. In doing so, according to people close to Riggs’ business interests, he has allegedly cost investors and suppliers thousands of dollars — allegations he denies.

His current company, Digital Majik Post Productions Inc., does work for a number of advertising agencies and other clients, including Tampa-based Paradigm Communications, one of the Bay Area’s largest ad firms.

Many clients speak highly of Riggs’ editing abilities and the way he showers them and prospects with attention, including gifts.

But suppliers and former associates paint a different picture — they describe Riggs, who has spent time in U.S. and Hong Kong prisons, as a manipulating figure who takes their money and property and then leaves them holding the bag.

“I hope someone catches up with that rat so he will just go away,” said one former supplier who claims he was left holding an unpaid bill worth several thousand dollars.

According to various people, Riggs has claimed to be the recipient of Emmy and Clio awards; to have done work for such major clients as Mitsubishi Electronics; to have been the author of the “This Bud’s For You” slogan; to have served as a backup member of the U.S. Olympic skeet shooting team, and to have played the trombone in the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus band.

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Newspaper writing: People stories

One of the first things you learn at any newspaper is that stories need to be about people. You can write about places and things all day long, but the best stories describe how places and things affect people. Or a person. One thing I like about living in Florida is that it is filled with old people. And old people have lifetimes of experiences that make for good stories.



CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bill Wynne finally got his medals Thursday, 48 years after a Japanese rifleman shot him in the knee during a battle in the Philippines.

If Wynne hadn’t been so determined to get a special Florida license plate for wounded vets, he might never have gotten his decorations at all.

Wynne, 70, who lives at the On Top of the World development in Clearwater, spent part of Veterans Day at a ceremony at American Legion Post 7, collecting the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, two of the awards and decorations he should have received after World War II, but never did.

To hear him tell it, the bullet wound to the knee was no big deal.

“I always felt I was lucky he hit me in the knee instead of the head,” Wynne said.

The Army’s failure to deliver his medals was no big deal, either, he said. He spent some time in the hospital, finished the war as a truck driver instead of a machine gunner, then got on with his life in Pennsylvania after the war was over.

When Wynne asked about his medals after the war, he was told there was no record of his being wounded or decorated. That seemed a little strange, he said, because the government kept sending him monthly disability checks. But after a while he stopped trying to get his medals.

“I just gave up on it,” Wynne said.

And that’s the way things would have remained, except for the special “combat wounded veteran” license plate that Wynne wanted so badly for his Mercury Sable.

When Pennsylvania came out with a special commemorative license plate for wounded veterans, Wynne, who was then a Pennsylvania resident, applied. Pennsylvania officials were happy to issue him the special plate, he said, and they accepted his VA disability papers as proof of his combat wound.

But things were different when Wynne moved to Florida three years ago. Florida refused to issue him the special plate unless he could produce his Purple Heart or some other evidence of having been wounded in combat.

Wynne decided to go after his medals again, but he got nowhere until he contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“They got a reply within 48 hours that my records had been located,” Wynne said.

The official presentation was held at the American Legion post, but the decorations actually came to Wynne’s home a week ago, packed in a big box.

“My wife got excited about them,” he said. “When I got home that night I was just glad to see the Purple Heart was in there.”

Besides the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, the box contained a Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and a number of other awards.

It was easy to see there was more involved than a license plate.

“I opened the box, and then I opened all the little boxes inside, and I read all the authorizations that were with the medals, and it took me back all those years,” Wynne said. “I felt very emotional about it. It brought home to me that they were really mine.”