To animal celebrities, it’s a jungle out there

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For Lassie No. 8, a direct descendant of the famous collie, life is one big belly scratch. When he rides in a car, it’s a limousine. When he flies, it’s first class — and never without his companion, Mel, a Jack Russell terrier. But there are many other furry celebrities you won’t see on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” any time soon:

Clyde the orangutan died a few months after filming Any Which Way You Can in 1980. During a federal hearing alleging animal mistreatment against the training company, Gentle Jungle, an assistant claimed a trainer beat Clyde with a cane and an ax handle. Gentle Jungle was fined for other abuses, but not for harming Clyde — at the time abusing primates was not illegal.

Shenny, Lorne Greene’s horse on “Bonanza,” died in 1992 at age 31, and not without a few scars. “She had bucked shins and bucked knees,” says Kerry Schultz, Shenny’s former stable manager. “If they needed the horse to fall down, they didn’t go to the trouble to train it. They put a wire across and the horse ran and fell down.”

Suzy, one of two dolphins who portrayed Flipper on the TV show, died in ignominy at a German shopping mall while touring in a portable pool after the series ended in 1968, according to Ric O’Barry, the show’s dolphin trainer. Kathy, the other Flipper, died after being kept in an exposed tank, O’Barry says. “There was no shade to protect her,” he says.

The American Humane Association monitors conditions for animal actors, but incidents of abuse (such as when producers of the CBS series “Due South” reportedly killed a caribou in 1995 to use it for the show) can galvanize celebrities, including game show host-cum-activist Bob Barker of “The Price is Right.”

Alan Young, whose “Mister Ed” co-star was a horse, shrugs it off. “You’ve got people in this town, such as Bob Barker, who don’t know a bloody thing about animals. Yet they get their gun off by calling themselves animal protective people.” Even the death of Young’s co-star in the early ’70s left activists skeptical. “For a horse to die at 19, you’re talking middle age,” says Barbara Eustiss-Cross, director of the Life Foundation, an environmental group with a division that focuses on horses. “I would certainly question it.”

Others spend less time worrying. “Green Acres” star Eddie Albert never kept in touch with Arnold the pig, his squealing co-star. “I have nothing to say, except that he used to steal the show. I never saw Arnold offstage,” says Albert. “As for animal rights, I am baffled even about child actors’ rights.”

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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