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AWOL Newswire Fall 2013


A jury of 13 Methodist clergymen in Lebanon, PA, suspended their pastor, the Reverend Frank Schaefer, of his duties for 30 days for conducting the wedding of his son to another man six years ago.

Schaefer, pastor at the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, was charged with conducting a same-sex ceremony and violating the church’s discipline, according to the Lebanon Daily News. If he violates the terms of his suspension and officiates a same-sex marriage or violates any portion of the Methodists’ Book of Disciples in the thirty-day time frame, he faces a more serious consequence: loss of his title and status as pastor. 

New York Magazine reports that despite the controversy his actions have created, Schaefer is unrepentant and doubtful that he will be able to adhere to the mandate set out in his sentence. 


The pizzly bear: half polar bear, half grizzly bear. It’s like a creature from some post-apocalyptic land—a hybrid of two animals forced to breed by an evolving, warmed-up world. But it didn’t take the end of days to find one. Global warming has caused massive summer ice melts that force polar bears farther south every year in search of stable hunting grounds. And as development in Canada pushes grizzly bears north, the two cousin species interbreed. According to Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic, wild pizzly hybrids were spotted in 2006 and 2010, and scientists fear that sightings will only increase with time. An increase in hybrid breeding could mean a loss of polar biodiversity, as pure-blooded polar bears breed with other hybrids or grizzly bears and eventually become extinct as a distinct species. Scientists fear that many aquatic mammals, including different species of endangered whales, may begin cross-breeding as well as Arctic ice barriers melt away; and, since hybrids are not protected under the endangered species act, nothing stops hunters from mounting heads of these rare wonders above their fireplaces. The endangered polar bear has long stood as an icon of the consequences of global warming, and many seem resigned to let the species disappear. However, south-bound polars and pizzlies mean potentially higher rates of polar bear attacks. Additionally, given the fact that grizzlies will maul prey and leave it to die, and polar bears are more unpredictable and have been known to attack humans without provocation, it is possible that these hybrids could behave unpredictably towards humans. At the most extreme, they may even maul people for fun: a reason enough to care about some melting ice.  -Pamela Huber


Even before the new Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) took effect on Oct. 1, it was a hotly debated topic. What often remains unsaid, however, is how this law will affect domestic violence survivors. In eight states and the District domestic abuse can be considered a pre-existing condition: a health condition that a person had or has received treatment for before buying a new health insurance plan. These can include cancer, asthma and, in some places, prior experience with domestic violence. A pre-existing condition could cause insurance companies to charge the individual more, or even not to insure them. 

Not much data is available on exactly how many insurance companies would deny someone under these conditions. In most cases, their underwriting requirements were kept concealed. However, the fact that the possibility existed was enough to make people afraid to report the abuse they suffered for fear of losing their health insurance. 

Angered by this, many senators, notably Sen. Patty Murray, pushed for legislation in 2009 that would protect these survivors. Their attempts ranged from bills that said domestic violence could not be considered a pre-existing condition to ones that prohibited any use of pre-existing conditions when creating an insurance plan. These efforts proved unsuccessful, and come 2013 there was no legislation in these states or D.C. that would penalize the practice. 

The Affordable Care Act not only prohibits insurers from withholding coverage based on any pre-existing conditions, but also explicitly dictates that evidence of prior domestic abuse cannot be considered a pre-existing medical condition. This provision, which will begin Jan. 1, 2014, will certainly have a cost effect, and which has led to a great deal of controversy. Many organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, have countered by emphasizing the benefits the law will have for survivors of domestic violence. 

Obamacare also stipulates that most health care plans provide screening and counseling services for domestic violence victims. Along with other routine questions, doctors will ask patients about domestic violence and if they are being abused. If patients disclose that they are in such a situation, doctors will explain that what they are going through is abuse and provide resources for patients. This practice has been around since before the act, but was not widespread. These screenings, though, can be crucial in providing a safe place for victims.

Critics of the ACA  note that this provision focuses on women, but men can also be victims of domestic violence. The effectiveness of the act’s domestic violence provisions, however, are yet to be seen.  -Lexie Tyson


Humans and animals share a unique relationship of mutual companionship, making pet therapy and service animals extremely effective. The psychological component of animal therapy provides benefits most standard therapies do not offer. Patients of all ages are reaping the benefits of therapy animals' intelligence and ability to empathize.

According to Psychology Today, having pets make an individual healthier in general. Pet owners are at lower risk of heart attack, and on average live longer than people without pets. Dog owners also tend to walk farther, improving mental wellness, blood pressure and more. And as pet lovers can attest, animals just make us happier: A study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia found that petting a dog can release a number of hormones that are responsible for positive feelings, including serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin.

Today, many different animals are being used for pet therapy. While dogs, cats and horses were traditionally chosen, birds, fish, and even dolphins have been used as well. These different animals are used in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, farms, and even college campuses. Here in Washington, DC, we have some organizations that offer pet therapy locally.

The Children's Inn on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, is the home of Viola, a yellow Labrador Retriever that lives at the Children’s Inn and provides pet therapy to the patients and families. Viola, better known as Vi, is a retired Seeing Eye dog that joined the team of doctors in 2008, after passing the Delta Certification test for Certified Animal-Assistant Therapy Dogs. Vi was donated by Mars, Inc., along with a lifetime supply of dog food and veterinary care expenses, allowing her to continue to lift the spirits of children receiving treatments at the Inn. As well as offering comfort and companionship, these therapeutic approaches can teach lessons in responsibility and friendship. Animals can even alert high risk individuals living alone of impending seizures or diabetic related problems.

Another local establishment exploring new kinds of animal therapy is the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program in Clifton, Virginia. NVTRP works with a team of trained therapists and horses and specializes in hippotherapy, a form of physical and speech therapy guided by horses. Horses have unique personalities, allowing the therapist to choose the perfect horse to fit the patient’s needs and objectives. A pony will best allow the therapist to utilize a hands-on-patient approach to work on balance and spatial awareness. A stubborn horse can teach an individual crucial lessons in patience. A gentle horse can provide a patient with improved self image and communicative skills.

Raising public awareness is crucial to continue to promote funding for these important therapies. There is endless evidence of the value of pet related therapies and the benefits they can provide for many diverse populations and disorders. -Nadine Rotundo

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