Sending in the llamas and clowns on 9/11

This is llama therapy at a Sarasota, Florida care center reminiscent of the scene at Care Meridian, Escondido on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo taken at Care Meridian and run at the North County Times the next day is unavailable./Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods

Sept. 10, 2001 was pretty much like any other day. That is to say honored only in its passing, don’t remember what happened.

Sept. 11, 2001, as we all know, was a day seared in our personal and national memories like few others.

Don’t know when the carnage began, but at my Del Dios home phones started ringing way too early in the morning and way too frequently.

Delete, delete, delete. Ignored the calls for a long time although my sleep-addled brain-space considered the callers to be quite persistent. Oy, vey.

Finally, I had enough, and dared to pick up one of the phones. That’s when all hell broke loose. I figured in my groggy state somebody must have died. Maybe it was important. And I was right.

About the North County Times


Many people loved the North County Times where I toiled at the time. They loved the easy-to-use format and plethora of hyperlocal news, along with the open-to-all opinion pages, sports, columns and community coverage.

Even more, people now appreciate the daily effort that had combined the Escondido Times-Advocate, the real one, with the Oceanside Blade and by extension, the Solana Beach Citizen.

As Joni Mitchell in “Big Yellow Taxi” said: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Robert Howard of Rancho Santa Fe put together the North County Times in 1995 and 1997. Starting in Wyoming in the 1960s, Howard Publications, at its height, owned 16 newspapers in the West and Midwest.

As a telling aside, per John Van Doorn, North County Times business editor, Howard also prohibited NCT reporters from EVER writing stories about The Ranch, his home. I  was about the only one who ever covered RSF because I lived nearby.

Howard Publications bought The Blade in 1979. Howard merged the Citizen with its well-regarded Oceanside Blade-Tribune into the new, and improved, Blade-Citizen.

Howard combined the Blade-Citizen with the less well-regarded Escondido Times-Advocate in 1995, adding the Californian in Temecula in 1997 to what it called the North County Times.

Lee Enterprises, then a major Midwest and West newspaper chain, bought the Times and Howard’s remaining publications in February, 2002 for the astounding sum of $694 million. Being the opposite of Mensa-quality publishers, Lee Enterprises later went Chapter 11 bankrupt and was bailed out by no less a luminary than Warren Buffet.

The infamous ultra-right hotel maniac Doug Manchester bought the North County Times in September 2012 for just under $12 million. He immediately laid off one-third of the staff, then folded the paper six month later. He sold the entire Escondido property to Classical Academy High School for  a reported $7 million.

Back to 9/11

9/11/History Channel

While people may have enjoyed the North County Times in 2001, the few actual journalists at the paper hated it. Management was completely misguided. Editor Kent Davey was a laughingstock. The assistant editors and bureau chiefs made the Trump Administration appear highly organized and competent.

That explained the jarring yelling and all-around carrying-on exploding from the phone as picked up. Margot, forgot her last name, was a nominal editor who went through everybody’s assignments that day.

Except mine. Having been late to answer the phone, apparently I was off the big show. She didn’t have much imagination or news sense, finally asking if I had been working on any stories for the day.

I had!

“‘Loveable’ llama brings smiles to Care Meridian.”

No kidding. The so-called “llama lady” had been hitting me up for months to cover her pet therapy llama. Somehow we kept missing connections. Sept 11, 2001 was the day we finally found convenient.

That’s where I went when the entire world seemed enveloped with infamy. Care Meridian at Escondido where “Tate, the 20-month-old therapeutic llama, planted a kiss on the forehead of Don Miller, a severe head trauma patient at Care Meridian.”

This is how cray-cray that day went. Trauma patients, many in wheelchairs with nurses attending, Tate the llama, Karen Lynch of her San Marcos-based Loveable Llamas, and I watched airplanes striking the Twin Towers and Pentagon on several small televisions spread across the care center.

I’m a bit hazy on this detail, what with the llama and all, but I believe the facility manager turned off the televisions at some point and we were all in on the Tate the llama show.

Call this the most passive-aggressive story in journalism history, but as you soon will see, I wrote the entire story without once mentioning anything else that happened 9/11 and the story ran as the only “good news” in the good news-branded newspaper on Sept. 12.

I’m posting the entire story here, an homage of sorts to the irony of life. Following that, I’m posting two columns I wrote the next few days when I was allowed to address the situation more forthrightly.


The actual Care Meridian 9/11 llama photo is missing, but this Sarasota care center photo is close enough for North County Times work./Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods


Staff Writer

ESCONDIDO — A certain lightness touched some hearts Tuesday as Tate, the therapeutic llama, planted a kiss on the forehead of Don Miller, a severe head trauma patient at Care Meridian.

“He’s beautiful,” Miller said with a smile. “I like his long legs.”

Tate’s twice-monthly hourly visits continue a six-year tradition of giving by Karen Lynch and her Loveable Llamas breeding operation in San Marcos.

“We bring our babies,” Lynch said, as 20-month-old Tate spread out on the care center dining room floor, tuckered out after puckering up for some of the 10 patients at the hour-long therapy session.

“I pick the special llamas before they get too big,” Lynch said. “They are easiest to train then. They all have their own personalities but Tate has been the most successful. When he gets too big, we’ll get another baby to work with the patients.”

Lynch has raised llamas for 15 years and has shared the llamas on an unpaid volunteer basis with area patients since 1995. She works with Rita Wauters, Care Meridian activities director, at various sites around Poway and Escondido. Care Meridian is an Escondido life care facility for catastrophically ill or injured patients.

“Tate has been so beneficial to our patients,” Wauters said. “He was named for one of our patients who suffered from traumatic brain injury and was in a wheelchair. That Tate (eventually) was able to walk with a walker and say a few phrases and left us in January.”

A success story for Tate, the patient, and his namesake, the llama, to be sure and one that therapists and health care workers say they see in many patients to varying degrees each time a llama comes to visit.

“The patients really respond,” said Ana Bornhofen, a speech therapist. Paula Cantleberry, nurse-of-the-day added, “The llamas really brighten the day. Everybody gets very excited the day the llama is coming.”

Care Meridian patient Kaleina Nath communicated her happiness with Tate through a lap-top computer. In a semicircle around the room, patients Mike Carr, Roy Covert, and Ken Clark dressed in bright red, Reniqua Montiel, Tammi Hamilton, Nath and Miller; each took turns kissing and being kissed by Tate’s big, soft lips. No turns needed for smiles.

But Tate and his therapeutic powers also touched others. Said Helga Reich, a former llama breeder and friend of Lynch who came along to help, “Kaleina was so excited when he saw us.”

And Lynch, who also takes llamas to schools, special education classes and other facilities, said she often is touched by the patients her llamas help.

“We’re working with people in need of therapy and this is its own payback,” Lynch said. “Some day you will want people to do for you as you did for them. We had a patient at Lifeline (Care Center) who had been in a trance for four years from a stroke. Never responded. The woman reacted to Tate’s touch which was the first reaction anyone had seen.”

Lynch added: “We’ve also taken llamas to terminal wards and seen patients on their deathbeds and with their oxygen tents. The people there are so surprised. All they want is someone to care about them. The llamas lighten them up so wonderfully.”

Contact staff writer Dan Weisman at (760) 761-4414 or



Dan Weisman

North County Times

Hundreds of people flocked to a noontime community prayer service at the San Marcos Civic Center on Friday, overflowing from rooms where they prayed and contemplated the future in the wake of this week’s terror attacks.

Dr. Sam Hamod, a San Marcos resident and president of the American Islamic Institute, told the crowd the perpetrators of the dastardly deeds weren’t representative of Muslims, instead using Islam as a mask for terror.

Hamod may have a long road to travel when it comes to convincing some people of that.

That road leads down San Marcos Boulevard to places such as Tony’s 6 Day Barbershop, where talk about the terror attacks was everywhere and consistent throughout the day. How could it not be? Everywhere everybody wants to share opinions and feelings in what no doubt will be one of the great watersheds of American history.

Tony Kozak, the proprietor of Tony’s 6 Day Barbershop, is a former Detroit police officer. Acknowledging his opinions were not politically correct, Tony’s take on the situation was that this was just the beginning of a religious confrontation between Christians and Muslims.

“I think it’s the beginning of a long, long war,” Kozak said. “I think it’s going to be a never-ending battle between Christians and Muslims. People coming in today have been angry but most don’t look at this as I do. They think we can go in there (Afghanistan) and get out. I think this is just something to draw the U.S. into a long, long war.”

Sitting in the barber’s chair, Alex M., an Escondido city worker who said he didn’t want to use his last name, said “the whole thing makes me sick. We are pulling together as a nation but it’s sad when it takes something like this to pull us together.”

Tony and Alex went back and forth as Tony snipped and Alex started looking years younger.

Tony said travel is going to be a real hassle. He plans to drive to Las Vegas next time, considering the time it will take at airports to go through security and all.

Alex said much of the world had been affected and military measures needed to be taken in conjunction with the rest of the world to be effective.

Tony suggested maybe the best thing would be to open up the Visa card and “buy him out,” referring to suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

And then the conversation paused, yielding to a question I knew would come and one I have had a lot of trouble answering since the events earlier this week. Alex turned the proverbial tables on me.

“What do you think about all this?” Alex asked.

It is the question I fear most.

Normally full of opinions, misguided or otherwise, I didn’t know what to say.

I still don’t.

The events are too overwhelming. All I know is what I see on television and read in the papers. When you boil it all down, all I know is nothing.

That’s not much of an answer I know, but I doubt anybody is looking to me for final answers. Everybody will arrive at their own.

But as Alex asked that question and I fumbled the reply, I did find a certain poignancy, a certain powerful beauty in a song that lept from Tony’s radio into our conversation.

“Imagine there’s no countries,” it went. “It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace …”

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.”

Yes, John Lennon. “Imagine.”

What else can I add?


Contact staff writer Dan Weisman at (760) 761-4414 or email



Clown convention/File

Dan Weisman

North County Times

Clown came to town. He was talking peace by the freeway as others spoke of war.

“I’m mainly out here for world peace,” said the thin, wispy-bearded 22-year-old who blew in from a Sonoma organic farm to visit his “girl,” and child in Ramona.

In case you missed Clown — his nom d’pax as a member of the Constitutional Clown Coalition that provides free tea and food at annual counter-cultural Rainbow Gatherings — he spent some quality time along the Highway 78 westbound exit ramp onto San Marcos Boulevard on Tuesday, one week to the day after the terror attacks on America.

Clown had a Nike cap on all right, but written in magic marker in large letters under Nike was SLAVES. He held a small cardboard sign all magic-markered up with a small hand-drawn picture of planet earth, the words “World Peace …Talk About It” and a peace symbol.

“My son and my girl are in Ramona,” Clown said. “The mother-in-law came to town so I had a little free time. I came here about a month ago and ran out of gas in San Marcos. I flew a sign for some gas money and people here were really cool, really kind. San Marcos has a lot of nice people. So, I thought it would be nice to come back here and fly a peace sign today.”

Clown took his large camper van with two pop-up tops to the back of the Ramada Inn, then walked over to the freeway exit, holding up his peace sign for the new times all morning.

“If someone kicks down some cash for gas that’s OK,” Clown said. “But I would rather see people flashing a peace sign than throwing change out the window. I want the words on the sign out there so if somebody sees it at least it’s on their mind for a while. The word ‘war’ is everywhere rather than the word ‘love’.”

Sometimes people shouted support or slyly flashed back peace signs. Generally, they ignored Clown by the side of the road. Still, the response was better than Monday’s effort which was a “Honk for World Peace” sign. Unfortunately, nobody was honking much for that around San Marcos.

“It’s like they were afraid what other people would say,” Clown said. “I can understand how American citizens would react like that. They haven’t seen war like say somebody who lives in Palestine or Israel. People need to get more information about what’s happening before freaking out.”

Clown was in the process of moving “down a couple of freeway exits,” for consciousness raising on Tuesday. After that, he was planning on getting back up the hill and then over to Todos Santos, Baja California, up the coast a bit from Cabo San Lucas where he is helping start an organic farm and counter-cultural rest stop.

“People build million-dollar homes along the coast there because it’s so beautiful,” Clown said. “But we believe in the natural way. We’re going to have glass-blowers, herbalists and a huge organic farm within the next five years. My girl’s an herbalist. We’re going to have people making jewelry. Mexico is cool.”

But have no fear. Clown will pass this way again as he plans to rejoin the Constitutional Clown Coalition next July 4th at the Rainbow Family Annual Gathering for Peace and Healing 2002 that will be in Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Clown’s 20-person crew again will give free tea and food to some of the 20,000 to 30,000 celebrants of “openness and tolerance for different beliefs, as well as the elevation of the individual’s ‘rights.’ ”

But that’s a long way off for Clown, the Rainbows and America. This week it’s a small sign by a long road to world peace.

Contact staff writer Dan Weisman at (760) 761-4414 or


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