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for people who care about the West

Bunny times at the state fair, dumpster-diving bears and parasitic springs

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


CALIFORNIA And that’s why it’s so hard to find a date on Saturday nights.
Carolyn Rosner

Are state fairs going to the dogs? No; at least in Montana, they’re going to the rabbits. During Billings’ annual MontanaFair, 22 kids from Yellowstone County participated in its first-ever rabbit-hopping exposition. Their animals, each harnessed and on a leash, competed on a “bunny-agility” course featuring five jumps. The winner, named Squeakers, completed the race in what his handler, 9-year-old Dawson Harms, described as the “relatively slow time” of 32 seconds, explaining that “sometimes he finishes in five seconds.” The kids were not allowed to assist their rabbits by lifting them by the harness or discreetly booting them over the barriers, though they could tickle their tails to encourage a leap. Many tried to do just that because “bunny after bunny balked at the first jump,” reports the Billings Gazette. As a 4-H leader explained, rabbits are more like cats: “They have their own way of doing things.” The 271 hoppers outnumbered the other types of junior livestock, but there were plenty of traditional animals competing, including 89 steers and 78 lamb or goats, plus 42 dogs entered in obedience trials, not to mention chickens, turkeys, llamas, alpacas and sundry other creatures, for a grand total of 2,720. Rabbit-hopping contests began in Sweden during the 1970s and have since spread along the U.S. East Coast. In 2013, the American Rabbit Hopping Association was formed to help the new sport make even bigger leaps.

When properly latched, well-engineered bear-proof dumpsters defy animals able to wrestle most other containers to the ground. Unfortunately, they’re not proof against human forgetfulness. A bear break-in problem has emerged in Mount Crested Butte, Colorado, because residents keep forgetting to lock the top after they throw in their garbage. It takes just a New York minute for the sweet smell of rotting food to attract bear families, and the steel boxes are no match for the clever cubs. They crawl up, fall in, and then root around for the free food inside. Recently, the town police were called after an agitated mama bear and cub were seen outside a dumpster.  “Mama was not happy,” police soon realized, because her second cub was trapped inside. Once it was able to climb out, though, the family left. It was a slightly different story at a condo complex, where a resident unloaded trash into a dumpster, yet somehow failed to notice there were three cubs trapped inside. As the Crested Butte News put it, “The next person tossing their trash certainly did (notice)!” Once the bear cubs were freed, all wandered off with mom.

This summer, Brittany Bronson, a college English teacher, took a job delivering cocktails at a Las Vegas hotel-casino. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that her job came with union membership, providing benefits and health care that, as she told The New York Times, “hotel workers in other states can only dream of.” Women make up the majority of the 57,000 members of Culinary Union Local 226, she discovered, and “at the top of our cocktailing matriarchy was a woman who had joined the union in 1973.” And though Nevada defines sex appeal as a legal requirement for some jobs, the state also boasts one of the smallest gender pay gaps in the country. That narrow pay gap correlates with higher numbers of women in state politics: Nevada is currently ranked sixth in the country, with women making up a third of elected state officials. The worst state for pay equity is Wyoming, which also has the smallest number of women holding political office. The next time you’re in Las Vegas, said Bronson, “ask your cocktail server whether unionization makes an enormous difference in women’s lives.”

Do not, repeat, do not splash while soaking in Kelly Warm Spring in Grand Teton National Park: “A parasitic amoeba that causes deadly brain infections” has turned up there, and “it travels through your nose,” reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The parasite was also found in two off-limits springs along the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway between Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The Park Service hasn’t closed Kelly Spring, but it suggests another reason for staying away: “The warm spring also had elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.”

Print journalism is far from dead, at least on the local level. In Kalispell, Montana, a free weekly newspaper launched in 2007 now averages 64 pages per edition with a press run of 25,000. It certainly helped that the Flathead Beacon was started by journalists with deep pockets: Maury Povich, a syndicated talk show host, and his wife, TV reporter Connie Chung. They fund five and a half full-time positions, reports the Columbia Journalism Review, and have a cool website, flatheadbeacon.com, that lets you turn virtual pages.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.