Maggie gets dogged

“There’s not an election in America that’s safe anymore,” observed one of my fellow Mountain Xpress staffers recently. He was reacting to news of yet another election that seems to have gone to the dogs.

When Maggie, Asheville’s famous Jack Russell terrier, went up against Chanda-Leah, a toy poodle from Ontario, Canada, in round three of American Fido (a canine talent contest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno back in February), Maggie looked like a shoo-in to make the final round.

Sure, Chanda-Leah could pretend-play a tiny piano and put trash in a wastebasket, but Maggie could do arithmetic, tapping out the answers to simple equations with her right front paw.

Even the audience members seemed to have no doubts about which was their favorite pooch: Chanda-Leah received a polite smattering of applause, but Maggie was accorded an ovation.

As Jessie Treff, Maggie’s owner, recalls, “We went backstage after the show thinking, ‘Well, Maggie’s got that one.'”

Even when Jessie and husband Art went online later that night (viewers were asked to vote for their favorite dog on the show’s Web site), the results were looking good: Maggie was way ahead, with 82 percent of the popular vote.

But then something funny started happening. Over the next two days, Maggie’s lead began to shrink, “from 82 to 76 to 72 to 69 percent,” says Treff, until it leveled out at 43 percent on Wednesday.

Treff’s brother, “a computer fanatic,” she says, “called me and said, ‘I’m telling you: Something is wrong.”

At about the same time, the show’s producer called, remembers Treff. “I said, ‘This seems so odd.’ And he said, ‘Well, we’ve been thinking that too, honestly, and we have our legal people and Web master checking into this.'”

“[They] suspected a very sophisticated Web hacker had changed the results,” says Treff. Their solution: Reinstate Maggie’s lead at 66 percent.

Within several hours, however, “We looked at the Web site again and we were back down to the same 43 percent.”

There were more phone calls back and forth, but in the end, Treff reports, the producer said, “I really hate to break this to you, but we’re going to let the other dog win.”

“Basically, they had run out of time [the announcement of the winner was scheduled for that Friday], it was supposed to be fun — and what were they going to do?” she explains.

“I said, ‘Fine. … It’s no big deal, [and] you’ve been wonderful to us,'” says Treff, recalling their eight-day stay at the Universal Hilton, the paid dinners, and traveling everywhere by limo while they were in L.A.

Five months later, Treff is still philosophical about the whole affair: “It was pretty roller-coasterly, but funny at the same time,” she notes with a chuckle. “We were trying to have fun out there, and all of a sudden we were caught up in this amazing Hollywood/L.A. drama.”

And what was Maggie’s reaction to having lost her shot at stardom? Probably not much different than how she felt about being on the show to begin with.

As Treff recalls, “Seconds before we go on, I look around and she’s dead asleep on Art’s lap.”

Movie/move me

Flash-forward: It’s early November, and downtown Asheville is awash in film actors, directors, screenwriters, distributors (including MGM, Porchlight and Mindfire), tourists, film buffs and regular local folks. All of them meandering from theater to panel discussion to celebration to awards ceremony. And get this, your film, your film, is creating the biggest buzz.

Sound like your kind of party?

Actually, it’s the first edition of the Asheville Film Festival. The inaugural event will showcase the work of independent filmmakers from across the country. And if you’ve got a movie, your creation could be sharing the spotlight. The city of Asheville is inviting filmmakers to submit their work to be considered for inclusion in the festival. But the clock is ticking: Submissions must be received by Friday Aug. 15 (for students, the deadline is Monday Sept. 15.)

The four-day festival (Nov. 6-9) will feature films in these categories: documentaries, shorts, feature-length films, student films and music videos.

A jury of film professionals will judge the entries; the winner in each category will receive a $500 award plus an engraved sculpture. Entries will be judged on both the filmmaker’s creative spirit and the production values.

For more information or a submission form, call 259-5800 or visit

Wet and wild

Volunteering as a creek keeper means becoming the eyes, ears and nose of your adopted tributary. It might mean taking a water sample each month and sending it off to be tested. Or walking the waterway with a net and seeing how many and what types of aquatic insects (a good indicator of stream health) you can find. Or simply noticing things: What color is the water? Are there lots of snails covering the rocks? (Not a good sign.) Unusual smells? Is sediment building up in one part of the stream? (By exploring upstream, it’s often possible to figure out where the problem originates.)

“The only way that our streams can get cleaned up is by everyone being involved, not just relying upon agencies,” says Phillip Gibson of RiverLink. “Rather, there has to be changes in attitude and behaviors and involvement of citizens.”

To that end, RiverLink is launching a regional training program (free for RiverLink members) to teach residents of the French Broad River watershed how they can help protect and improve the condition of our streams. The fee for nonmembers is $20 students, $35 individuals, $40 families.

Participants will attend nine classes over an eight-week period (including a Saturday field trip to the Pisgah National Forest trout hatchery in Transylvania County to learn about aquatic insects). Interested citizens who don’t want to become creek keepers are also encouraged to attend any or all the classes.

Scheduled classes include Introduction to Watersheds (Thursday July 24), Water Quality (Thursday July 31), Communication (Monday Aug. 4), Watershed Partnerships (Thursday Aug. 7), Regulatory Programs (Thursday Aug. 21), Water Investigations (Thursday Aug. 28), The Spineless Ones (Saturday Aug. 30), and Sources of Pollution (Friday Sept. 5).

After completing the training, participants will take a written exam. Those who pass will become officially certified creek keepers and will be asked to give 10 hours of volunteer service a month for six months.

Becoming a creek keeper, notes Gibson, doesn’t necessarily mean monitoring streams, however. “People come with their own talents or gifts or interests,” he explains. A graphic designer, for example, “could help us with creating information brochures to get out to the public.”

For more information or to register for the training, call 252-8474, ext. 115, or visit

U.S. Cellular helps victims

Wireless carrier U.S. Cellular recently announced an expansion of its SAFE (Stop Abuse From Existing) program. The program already provides free wireless phones, preset to dial 911, to victims of domestic violence, giving them access to emergency help whenever and wherever it’s needed.

Now, SAFE will also provide free cellular voice mailboxes to victims, giving them a secure and private place for family, friends, lawyers, case workers and other important people to leave messages.

The mailboxes can be especially helpful for victims living in transitional housing who are actively seeking employment and/or housing. Because the boxes use a regular seven-digit phone number and a personalized greeting message, prospective employers or landlords never know that the person they’re calling lives in transitional housing. This eliminates a stigma sometimes faced by people in this situation.

Locally, U.S. Cellular is donating the voice mailboxes to Helpmate, a nonprofit that will assign them to recipients on a priority/need basis. More than 140 shelters across the nation have also partnered with U.S. Cellular through the SAFE program. In certain specialized markets, information for victims has been translated into various languages, such as Spanish and Hmong.

For more information, call Helpmate at 254-2968. To find out more about U.S. Cellular, visit their Web site (


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