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June 2, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

AZ Giving and Leading: Tranquility Trail Animal Sanctuary

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  • This no-kill shelter describes itself as the largest domestic rabbit sanctuary in Arizona. At its Scottsdale location, volunteers focus on the physical and emotional well-being of the animals, with each rabbit receiving designated play time each day. Tranquility Trail is open seven days a week so that visitors can meet rabbits and learn how to properly care for them.
Category: Giving/Leading   |   Keywords: giving, leading, rabbits, tranquility, trail, care,

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Ted Simons: Maricopa County ranks second only to Los Angeles County when it comes to pet overpopulation. Most people think of dog and cats when looking at the issue of unwanted pets, but as producer Christina Estes and photographer Juan Magana show us, there's another animal that often needs help.

Kelly Ames: When we created this, we wanted to create something that was a cheery place, a happy place.

Christina Estes: That place is Tranquility Trail, a sanctuary for domestic bunnies.

Kelly Ames: That’s Gigi, and she's our youngest bunny. She's four months old.

Christina Estes: Kelly Ames and her volunteers care for 75 bunnies at the Scottsdale Shelter.

Kelly Ames: Sadly we do have a one-year waiting list of people who want to surrender their rabbits. Rabbits are the third most surrendered animal in the shelter system. And they're very few resources for them.

Christina Estes: Sometimes they get rabbits directly from people who no longer want them. And sometimes bunnies are just dumped outdoors, like baby Gigi.

Kelly Ames: She was abandoned in a shoe box with no food and no water, with sick baby bunny written across it.

Christina Estes: Gigi is doing well now, and so is Fred. But it's taken a while.

Kelly Ames: He had to have an eye removed, he had abscesses, he's had respiratory issues. But he's always been the happiest little guy.

Christina Estes: They rescued Fred and many others from a woman who didn't even know how many rabbits lived in her back yard.

Kelly Ames: She thought she had about 40 when she called us, so when we got there, we were a bit surprised that there were actually 107. But three of the girls were pregnant and had 25 babies between them two days after we got everybody here.

Christina Estes: That was more than three years ago. And they still have nearly 50 rabbits from that rescue.

Kelly Ames: A lot of these bunnies have come from places where people haven't been very kind to them. So, it's our job to teach them to trust people again. And as a prey animal, it does take a little longer for bunnies to trust new people.

Christina Estes: Kelly never rushes adoptions. She stays focused on finding the right family for each rabbit.

Kelly Ames: Some are super active, some are more couch potatoes, some are really needy, some are more independent.

Christina Estes: Like this one, named Bianca.

Kelly Ames: A.K.A. Diva. She's queen bee. She just wants to do her own thing.

Christina Estes: Christine Martin visits Tranquility Trail twice a week. She volunteers to feed the rabbits and clean their rooms.

Christine Martin: I'll give them new linens or blankets. I'm actually one of the bunny’s new interior designer because I like to decorate his home very special, depending on the day and, you know, how he's feeling that day.

Christina Estes: This self-described cat lover says bunnies have a calming effect on her.

Christine Martine: I'm definitely a bunny person now for sure.

Christina Estes: The bunnies are all litter boxed trained and can run around the house just like cats and dogs. Their daily exercise includes an hour a day in one of eight play areas.

Christine Martin: Every time I come here and I walk through that door, it is the most amazing experience for me. The compassion, the love, and the peacefulness that I feel when I'm here it just makes me so happy.

Christina Estes: Kelly wants others to feel that way too. That's why Tranquility Trail is open to the public seven days a week.

Kelly Ames: We have so many people come in, just to visit. They've just been driving by and they're curious as to what we do. And by the end of their visit, they almost always say, wow, I didn't know bunnies were so smart, or so fun, or I didn't know they had such personality. And I think once people start to see that, things will change for them.

Ted Simons: Tranquility Trail offers a summer camp for kids and volunteer opportunities for everyone. You can find more information at their website,

Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon," hear from the state Attorney General Tom Horne on allegations that he broke campaign law. And find out about Downwinders, people impacted by nuclear tests in the 50's and 60's. That's Tuesday evening at 5:30 right here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Veterans’ Affairs Controversy

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  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has resigned, the latest in a series of events that started with allegations that 40 veterans may have died while waiting for medical care at the Phoenix VA hospital. Dennis Wagner of the Arizona Republic has been writing about the issue and will bring us up to date.
  • Dennis Wagner - Journalist, Arizona Republic
Category: Medical/Health   |   Keywords: medical, health, phoenix, arizona, veterans, affairs, controversy,

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Ted Simons: A story that began with a whistleblower’s allegations of misconduct at the Phoenix V.A. hospital resulted in the resignation last week of U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. "The Arizona Republic's” Dennis Wagner helped break the story and he's here now to bring us up to date. Good to have you here. Thanks so much for, again, you are in front of this story all the way. We love having you on to get the latest. The response, whistleblower response, response in general to the Shinseki resignation.

Dennis Wagner: The response from Sam Foote the first whistleblower, certainly the most significant to come out, was actually very subdued. It was basically you don't celebrate being right about veterans not getting the care they deserve. The larger and more significant response in terms of the future I think was there may have been a problem with Secretary Shinseki and his oversight of that agency, his control of that agency, but this is not just about one guy in charge. This is about a bureaucracy, it's about an institution, and I think there's a pretty widespread view that there needs to be reforms in addition to change of leadership.

Ted Simons: So we're talking culture as much if not more so leaders?

Dennis Wagner: We're talking culture, we may be talking legislation, policy, there's a whole gamut of different areas that I think people are looking at to see how can we fix a broken system.

Ted Simons: Before we get to that and the ideas for reform, what changes, what tangible changes are there now at the Phoenix V.A. hospital?

Dennis Wagner: The three of the top -- They call their leadership group of five the PENTAD. Two of the members of the PENTAD, the director Sharon Helman and deputy director Lance Robinson have been placed on administrative leave. An additional person who they haven't named has been placed administrative leave. In addition, the director of the southeast regional V.A. health care system, Susan Bowers, was a planning to retire in a month, and just last week she retired early. In addition to that, right now there were 1,700 patients identified in an inspector general report who were not on the electronic waiting list, so they were basically this so-called secret list if you want to put it that way. Those 1,700 are being contacted by phone and if they can't reach them by phone, by registered letter or certified mail, I can't remember which, and told here's our situation, you were off the list, we're going to try to get you in as soon as we can, when would be a convenient time to see you? We're still getting information on how successful they've been to achieve that.

Ted Simons: And again, these are 1,700 people who signed up for initial appointments and never made it on any list?

Dennis Wagner: They were on a list, but it wasn't the electronic waiting list that is the formal list --

Ted Simons: They should have been on.

Dennis Wagner: They were kind of left off that.

Ted Simons: My goodness. OK. Steve Young is still the interim director?

Dennis Wagner: Steve young is the interim director while director Helman is on administrative leave.

Ted Simons: And we do not know what happens to director Helman?

Dennis Wagner: Before he was -- Before his resignation, Secretary Shinseki on Friday gave a talk to a veterans group, and during that talk he said they were in the process of doing something about the Phoenix leadership. But he didn't say what and we have not learned yet what that was about.

Ted Simons: As far as you mentioned Susan Bowers, again, who is she, it -- The initial report is she abruptly left the job, but you're saying she was going to retire in a month anyway?

Dennis Wagner: She abruptly left a month early, but she was going to retire anyway. She was the regional director of what’s called (inaudible) 18, it’s a southwest regional health care network. And it is kind of the umbrella organization over the Phoenix V.A. as well as V.A.s in New Mexico and west Texas.

Ted Simons: OK. Let's get back to reforms as you referred to earlier. What is being discussed? It sounds as though there are options all over the place right now. Give us an example of what's being discussed.

Dennis Wagner: One example that's concrete is there are bills right now that have been offered in the House and the Senate to increase the accountability in the V.A. by creating a greater authority to fire employees for wrongdoing or negligence or that kind of misconduct within the V.A. There's a perception that the civil service system has created such protections for managers, especially middle managers, that there are not able to root out that those who don't belong there anymore.

Ted Simons: Is there a way to get more information to the Eric Shinsekis, the next Eric Shinseki, if you will, so they would even have the opportunity to make those moves? It sounded like he didn't know what was going on.

Dennis Wagner: It was always difficult for me to understand what the secretary was saying, because it seemed like it wasn't in touch with his own -- The inspector general reports that had come to him about this wait time issue, repeatedly over the past seven or eight years, the GAO report that outlined it in numerous facilities the same problem. So it was always hard for me to understand whether he wasn't being clued in or he was acting oblivious to it, so I don’t know the answer. But I think in any organization that down the chain of command accountability reflects how well the boss has shown his colors.

Ted Simons: Or at least is paying attention to what's going on there. Are there thoughts of just simply overhauling the whole thing?

Dennis Wagner: I have -- I'm not sure if it's considered an institution or an agency too big to die, or too big to be killed or however you want to put it. If you just tried to start all over, you'd end up starting all over with what you had before to a large extent, because it's a bureaucracy that can't change that much. You've got thousands of employees, millions of records, millions of clients. And so I think it's more talk about reform, and that could be in the form of do we reevaluate how much care we're giving to how many veterans, how expansive the benefits are here? Do we reevaluate how much care or how we focus that care, are we only going to focus on areas were we’re really good, and far more to private care doctors and that kind of thing? There's a bunch of options there, and I think nobody is clear on where it's going.

Ted Simons: Could we be going in the direction of a criminal investigation from the Justice Department?

Dennis Wagner: I think it's possible. The Inspector General team that's been here and has already come out with an interim report that was pretty damaging, that team made it clear that they have criminal investigators and that they're in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department. So it's possible, but, you know, you're going to have to show not only wrongdoing, but probably some knowing wrongdoing and we're going to see where that goes.

Ted Simons: What is next in all this?

Dennis Wagner: I think it -- I haven't been able to predict this very well. Events have surprised me a number of times. One thing that's next is the President of the United States has to select a new boss for the V.A. That's certainly going to be a big decision. Then the final I.G. report, the Inspector General report comes out in August, and both houses, the committees in both houses, the V.A. committees have announced they're going to hold hearings, and those hearings could be really telling too.

Ted Simons: Last question before you go, from someone who you were literally there the start of this thing, in terms of breaking the story out here, it's obviously a national scandal now. It's obviously -- We had 40-some-odd different V.A. systems at least now being looked at, V.A. hospitals and facilities. Is there still a Phoenix face on this particular scandal?

Dennis Wagner: In terms of a human face in Phoenix, unless it's Sam Foote, the first whistleblower, I'm not sure that there's kind of that iconic image. But I think in the minds of most Americans, it's a national scandal first, but then kind of as a secondary line, it's a national scandal that obviously started in Phoenix and it’s got that nexus to it still.

Ted Simons: Yeah, alright. Well, continued good work, thank you so much for your work, and we'll continue reading to find out what is next on a scandal that is just one of those things that seems to grow legs all the time. Good to have you:

Dennis Wagner: Thanks for having me.

Wildfire Prevention Campaign

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  • National and state agencies are joining forces on a campaign to prevent wildfires this summer, which is of particular concern because of a dry winter. Helen Graham, the deputy fire staff officer for the Tonto National Forest, will discuss the “One Less Spark, One Less Fire” wildfire prevention campaign.
  • Helen Graham - Deputy Fire Staff Officer, Tonto National Forest
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: environment, wildfire, prevention, campaign, summer, dry,

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Ted Simons: State and federal agencies are joining forces on a new wildfire prevention campaign called "One Less Spark, One Less Fire." Here to tell us about the effort is Helen Graham, the Deputy Fire Staff Officer for the Tonto National Forest. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. "One Less Spark, One Less Fire." Not sure about the grammar there, but I do know the intention. Talk to us about that.

Helen Graham: "One Less Spark, One Less Fire" is an effort that we have to bring attention to the other sources of human-caused fires that we see out in the forest and the public lands. A lot of our fires, specifically on the Tonto, are caused by the traveling public. Vehicles that are poorly maintained, they break down, people pull over into the grass, vehicle accidents, we had the badger fire that was on I-17 that closed things down for hours, and that was an overheated R.V.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and I have one of the campaign ads here, this is "One Less Spark, One Less Fire," and again, this one focuses on the vehicles. People don't think about that. They don't think about chains, they're pulling chains, and these sorts of things, and just -- Literally, one spark and there you go.

Helen Graham: One spark. A lot of people think roadside fires are caused by people discarding cigarettes. Those can happen, but dragging chains, poorly inflated wheels that blow out, people riding on the rim, just dragging material under the vehicle. The Tonto National Forest is bisected by a number of state highways and interstates and we see quite a few of these fires every year.

Ted Simons: And I would imagine just simply parking or pausing over dry leaves could be a problem.

Helen Graham: Yeah. Catalytic converters are very hot. It only takes temperatures of about 400 to 600 degrees to spark a wildfire. Catalytic converters are much hotter than that.

Ted Simons: So basically, what? The idea if grass or something hits the bottom of your vehicle, don't park there?

Helen Graham: Don't park there. Park in a clear area, if your vehicle is breaking down, get to a turnout, on an exit, a safe place where you can park without exposing the vehicle to grass or brush.

Ted Simons: You mentioned cigarettes. I mowers and chainsaws and other things are talked about as well. There's a 30-second spot I want to run because it's part of the campaign to get folks to pay attention to what they're doing. Again, this is a 30-second spot regarding "One Less Spark, One Less Fire." I’ll tell you what, we'll let them get that spot ready. We'll continue the discussion while they load that up. Mowers, chain saws, welding torches, those sorts of things.

Helen Graham: Any internal combustion engine, any welding device, cutting torches, any of those can drop slag and cause a wildfire.

Ted Simons: Okay and here is the spot. So we're again talking obviously this stuff handling campfires responsibly, as you mentioned, tossing cigarettes and fireworks, all those sorts -- that should be common sense, shouldn't it?

Helen Graham: It should be. We've been in fire restriction since mid-April. It should be common sense to put out fires, but some people don't understand to put a fire dead out –- a campfire -- you have to be able to stick your hand in the ashes and it should be cold to the touch. Otherwise we don't consider it dead out.

Ted Simons: When we talk about the mowers and chain saws and such, string trimmers in tall grass, is that OK?

Helen Graham: If it's not metallic it's OK. The thing you do need to worried about is the muffler, whether you have spark arrester on that muffler.

Ted Simons: And spark arresters are very important.

Helen Graham: Very important, yes.

Ted Simons: As far as the cigarettes, again and I think you may have touched on this, the idea you toss a cigarette, hours later that thing could still be a problem.

Helen Graham: Correct. Correct.

Ted Simons: People just don't seem to understand that.

Helen Graham: Yeah. I think this is part of our campaign, to make people more aware how their activity can affect our public lands, whether it's using their mower, driving up the road, that they need to be aware of how their activity can affect us.

Ted Simons: Discharged firearms. Got to be careful.

Helen Graham: Yep. Shooting, whether shooting activity because of the types of targets they're shooting, the types of rounds they're using. On the Tonto National Forest, we have quite a few fires attributed to shooting activity.

Ted Simons: Is there a special ammunition maybe to use or try to avoid?

Helen Graham: Actually we just -- When we go into our fire restrictions we go into a shooting ban. We do so because it's just the variety of activities that shooting can lead to causing a fire. We just go into a complete ban. The Prescott National Forest does so when they elevate their restrictions as well as does the Bureau of Land Management.

Ted Simons: That's folks traveling and perhaps vacationing and staycationing and the whole nine yards. What about folks who live in the high country, who live near these areas, near the forested areas?

Helen Graham: They need to be careful about their activities around their house. The best thing they could start out with is making sure they have that 30-foot and 100-foot clearance around their home, so there home’s defensible. The next thing is people mowing their lawns, using welding torches, cutting torches or welding devices, anything that can produce a spark, personal activity can start a fire that can spread to the forest.

Ted Simons: As far as fire restrictions now, for again those planning on camping, planning on going on vacation, how do you know about the restrictions? Where do you get the information?

Helen Graham: You can go to any of the websites, AZfireinfo is one, the Tonto National Forest, each of the national forests has information on their website. You can't drive up highway 87 right now without passing a large lighted sign that will tell you what the restrictions are and what is prohibited.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, if you don't, you haven't checked the internet or you figure I'm going to go right now kind of on a lark, are these electronic signs off the side of the road?

Helen Graham: They're off the side of the road. We have a partnership with ADOT. They turn on their signs as well with the same fire restriction information. The other thing is we boost our prevention staffing, so we have prevention personnel patrolling the forest early in the morning, late in the afternoon when we might find these activities, making contact and educating folks.

Ted Simons: What if you're out there and you see a fire? You see something smoking?

Helen Graham: Call 9-1-1.

Ted Simons: Literally 9-1-1.

Helen Graham: 9-1-1 will get to whichever jurisdiction it needs to get to.

Ted Simons: And you're in the Tonto National Forest. How are things up there? What's it look like?

Helen Graham: It's dry. We're in the peak of our season. This is June; we're in the 90th to 90th percentile of as bad as we could be. That's why we've elevated our restrictions and boosted our staffing. So far we've been fairly lucky. We did have a fire, two fires this weekend, one of which we do believe might have been related to some shooting activity. That's under investigation.

Ted Simons: Where was that?

Helen Graham: That was up 87 off Mesquite Wash, and then the other fire was off the road up by Four Peaks.

Ted Simons: I know the bark beetle problem up there is bad. How much of a factor is that? Is that getting any better at all?

Helen Graham: We haven't had any recent infestations, but we have the dead material that's already out there. That's why we do -- Make a lot of effort to clear that material out and create defensible space around communities. The biggest thing that we're really dealing with this year is the 12 years of drought and the lack of Winter precipitation and Spring precipitation. That puts us in a bad spot.

Ted Simons: Well, alight. Let's hope for the best. Thank you for the campaign and thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

Helen Graham: You bet.