Archive for: March 2015

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Is Rainey Street Washing Away?

The House of the Rising Sun

Social animals: rewriting the underdog story in the age of social media


Tuna looks upon the line of fans waiting to get his “pawtograph” for the book titled Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite. Tuna fans flocked to BookPeople on Friday, March 6, 2015 for the book signing and opportunity to take photos with the Instafamous dog.

He saw hundreds of people waiting in line — the usual. Fans were squealing his name in adoration. Young and old would wait for two hours on a Friday night in Austin, Texas. For what? They had come from far and wide just for a signed copy of his book and a chance to take a quick picture with him. It was surreal — something you’d expect to be humbling, like playing Madison Square Garden. Yet, all he could think about was the squeaky toy one of his handlers was dangling high up above his face.

Tuna, the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, internet celebrity, and inspirational figure for the modern era has come a long way from his humble roots on the side of a Southern California road, where he was abandoned as a puppy — presumably, because of the trademark underbite and crumpled neck for which he is now famous.

“You know, I like to call him Sir,” said Tuna’s owner Courtney Dasher, to a packed house at BookPeople for a book signing to promote his new book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite.

Tuna’s inspirational underdog story starts in 2011, when Dasher adopted him and quickly began posting pictures of her pup’s peculiarly pronounced pearly whites to an Instagram account.

“[Tuna] reaches all demographics,” Dasher said. “I think people from all different walks of life are drawn to him so he speaks to different people’s hearts and situations by being quirky and unconventional.”

Now his website, TunaMeltsMyHeart, has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. That’s right — this dog has more Instagram followers than you. That’s also more Instagram followers than actor John Stamos (553k), actress Amanda Seyfried (831k) and just slightly less than comedienne and star of The Mindy Project,  Mindy Kaling (1.4m). Somebody get this dog a Super Bowl commercial!

In 2012, Tuna's Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

In 2012, Tuna’s Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

If you think this is all just the work of a fame-hungry Chiweenie, however, you’d be wrong.  Tuna has not forgotten his roots and is using his celebrity to give back to his favorite cause, according to Dasher.

“We’re being used as a catalyst to change people’s days,” said Dasher. “I look at him as a vehicle to bring people a lot of joy, and on our tours, like anytime we do anything, we want to be able to support animal rescue groups.”

Donations that night went to local animal rescue group Austin Pets Alive!, which brought to BookPeople a puppy who, much like Tuna, was born with a congenital defect that could hurt his chances for adoption. Tuna was only too happy to pose for a picture with the puppy whose front paw will likely be removed due to lack of sufficient bone structure.


Tuna poses for a photo with Austin Pets Alive puppy, Scooter who was born with a defect in his front paw and abandoned by previous owners before APA rescued him.

An APA! volunteer said Tuna’s celebrity helps raise the visibility of the nonprofit’s work in an important way.

“It’s one thing to hear Austin Pets Alive!, you can adopt an animal from them,” the volunteer said. “It’s a different thing to see the puppies and kittens and cats and dogs that we’re saving at an event like this.”

She also said social media is huge for promoting animal rescue — even in a city like Austin, with a thriving network of animal rescue groups and an army of volunteers touting its dog-friendly distinction as the largest no-kill city in the nation.

“Social media is how people find out about us: without social media all you’ve got is word of mouth, which isn’t going to get you very far,” she said. “Social media within your own organization is even big for us: it’s how we can plead for a new foster home.”


Fans hold up their smart phones to snap photos while Courtney Dasher introduces Tuna before the book signing on Friday, March 6th, 2015.

Tuna’s Instagram has become a social media tool more powerful than Dasher ever expected.

“Social media is an outlet to connect with a community that is global, which is so fascinating to me,” Dasher said. “I don’t look at this as just an Instagram account. I have a lot of responsibility attached to me now and I want to make sure to use it to promote things that are encouraging and uplifting.”

Tuna may be the first Instagram pet to go on tour, but if he’s the first one you’ve heard of, you must not be one of Milla the cat’s 200k Instagram followers. The feline with comically small ears, whose owners ask for donations to fund treatment for her heart disease, is just one of an increasing number of Instagram pets with followings that dwarf those which rescue organizations can attract.  Compare the 8,400 followers of APA!’s Instagram to the 97k followers of Elfie and Gimli, two brother and sister cats born with dwarfism.

Tuna’s cartoonish appearance has helped catapult him to the top of the pack, but there is also a place on Instagram for more conventionally cute cats and canines. If you would like to share your own rescue pet’s story, but feel you don’t have time to cultivate a following,  you can submit a photo and story to Rescue Pets of Instagram. It has 71k followers.

While social media on Facebook and Twitter have played a significant role in grassroots movements for social change in recent years, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Quigley says there may be a reason Instagram is appealing for promoting animal rescue, in particular.

“Considering Instagram has more than 200 million users, it’s a great place to spread a message and get people involved,” Quigley said. “It’s the perfect place for an animal rescue message, because Instagram is a visual medium. Who can turn down Tuna?”

Tejano Hero Honored at Texas State Cemetery

Weather Doesn’t Damper Spirits at Kite Festival

Story by Bobby Blanchard, video by Colleen Nelson and photos by Chelsey Pena

Long-time kite flyers and sunny day fans Gene and Kerry Raymond were hoping it would rain hard on Sunday, March 1, so officials would postpone the Zilker Kite Festival.

But it didn’t. While weather forecasts had promised an ugly day with low temperatures and heavy clouds, Austin did not receive heavy rain. Gene and Kerry said they would rather it rain heavily so the Kite Festival could be rescheduled for a sunnier, cheery day. But that didn’t happen.

“Even this doesn’t keep us away though,” said Gene, a 36-year-old Austinite who’s been going to the festival with his wife since their first date in 2002. “We come here for the memories…to remind ourselves of the good times behind us and the good times ahead.”

Despite an average temperature of 43 degrees, more than 10,000 people swarmed Zilker Park on March 1 for the 86th annual Kite Festival in Austin. Attendees said the kite festival brings out Austin’s southern friendliness and urban weirdness.

Gene and Kerry Raymond were just two of those 10,000 attendees. They were there for tradition — they had their first date at the Zilker Kite Festival in 2002. Unlike the 2015 Kite Festival, 2002 was a sunny and warm year, they said. After attending the festival for the first time in 2002, they got ice cream.

Some fun Kite facts, and Kite history

“It was a warmer day than this, and we were hot and sweaty from running around with kites,” Kerry said. “I was really worried I smelled awful and he’d would be grossed out.”

Since then, the couple said they have only missed two kite festivals. Once in 2006, when it was scheduled on a weekend when they had work obligations. And again in 2009, when Kerry was pregnant and expecting her first son – Zachary Raymond. He was born three days after the Kite Festival.

Zachary, a soon-to-be six-year-old, was shy at the Kite Festival on Sunday. But he said his favorite kind of kites were the red ones because “you can see them in the sky.”

This year, the Raymond’s made a simple, red diamond-kite for the festival. They said they had made more complex designs in the past, but did not have time this year.

“We were a little bit lazy,” Gene said. “But that’s okay, maybe we’ll make one of those dragon kites next year.”

The Zilker Kite Festival began in 1929 and continues to this day, to “encourage creativity in children,” according to the event’s website. The City of Austin claims it is the longest running kite festival in the United States. It is hosted every year by the Exchange Club of Austin, and money raised from the event go to charity organizations.

While the Raymond family attended the kite festival as part of family tradition, others said they took to the Kite Festival because it reminded them of Austin culture.

“It keeps Austin weird — this is just our spirit,” said Melissa Lloyd, 27. “It also keeps Austin friendly. What’s nicer about flying a bunch of kites?”

Not everyone thinks kite flying is so “nice”, however. Crystal Webb, a 29-year-old Austinite who says she participates in “kite fighting,” viewed the kite festival through a different pair of eyes. She did not bring a kite to the festival this year. She said she was there to “watch and observe.”

“I come every year, sometimes I bring a kite and sometimes I don’t,” Webb said. “Mostly though, I am here to scope out new designs and ideas.”

Some people just want to have fun, however.

“A lot of work goes into making a kite,” Kate Raymond said. “Every year, when I see ours flying, I like to think we’ll do better next year. And hopefully the sun comes out next year, too.”

Water Allocation…Is It Fair?

By: Judy Hong, Mackenzie Drake, Garrett Callahan, Samantha Rivera


When Taiki Miki woke up in the morning, his usual routine involved a quick shower, brushing his teeth and possibility drinking a glass or two of water.


The sink water running in an Austin apartment.

Miki estimates he uses about 18 gallons of water each morning. But when he lived at his former apartment in Austin, he didn’t have to worry about the individual amount of water he used.

“I wasn’t very lenient in my use of water,” Miki said. “I didn’t use excess water than I needed, but I knew that any additional gallon of water that I used wasn’t going towards my individual bill.”

This is because Miki lived in an apartment that used a water allocation system. Instead of each residential unit paying for the amount of water it uses individually under submeters, residents are charged a part of the water usage of the whole apartment complex, which is calculated by the utility company.


Austin Water Utility in downtown Austin takes part in the water allocations.

Some older apartments in Austin use a master meter for the entire complex, which measures the total amount of water used throughout all of the units. Based on this usage, the property gets a master bill, which is then split among the tenants using an allocation method approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or Public Utility Commission.

Some properties divide water usage based on the square footage of each apartment or based on a percentage for each unit, along with the number of residents.

Many properties use the allocation system because it is the only method possible. If properties have only one master meter for the entire complex, they are unable to see the individual usage of each apartment. For this reason, many of Austin’s older complexes, such as Tanglewood North and Su Casa Apartments, use the allocation system.


Taped-up water pipes in various apartments in Austin.

However, many residents think this type of billing system constitutes an imbalanced system, as some units typically use far less or far more water than others.

“I think it’s very unfair,” said Jeff Haniuk, a tenant at Heritage at Hillcrest in Austin. “Because if you’re somebody like my wife who takes a lot of baths, I would hate for somebody to be charged for her bath water if they don’t use as much water.”

Under Texas law, water allocation is a legal practice. As long as property owners outline specific rules and disclosures in the rental agreement, they are able to allocate water based on the whole property’s usage.

In the lease, tenants must be made aware they will be billed on an allocation basis, the exact allocation method, and the average monthly water bill for the last calendar year, along with other procedures.

“I don’t think it’s a good system,” said Andy McClintic, a tenant of a complex that uses a submeter system. “Why would I even turn our water off, if we’re being billed for everyone’s water?”

Water Saving Tips-2

Although the water allocation system can be backwards from the conservation efforts that Austin is pushing for, there are other ways for individuals to save water.

There is not much residents can do to combat the water allocation system, if they don’t agree with it. Since it is allowed under Texas law, properties have the right to use their own metering system. The Austin Water Utility suggests getting into contact with property managers to make them aware of water conservation issues and educate them on the best practices to save water.

Many tenants believe that water allocation opposes Austin’s water conservation efforts. Currently in a Stage 2 drought restriction phase, Austin is making a push to lower water usage within residents and businesses.

However, under the water allocation system, tenants face almost no consequences to using more water than they need, since they are not paying for their individual usage.

“If you’re trying to encourage water conservation the best way would be the individual approach,” said Austin Batson, whose apartment uses the allocation system. “Having every unit responsible for their own bill or even more ideally you could track where the water is actually being used.”



Austin likes to Laugh

Aquaponics: A Tell All

by Selina Bonilla, Claire Bontempo, Christine Dickerson, and Jorge Guerra
Check out our website, including a short documentary and infographics all about aquaponics!

Art for the People

by Paige Atkinson, Olivia Leitch, James Grandberry, Taylor Smith, and Hannah Smothers

Setting up the People's Gallery, photo courtesy of City Hall

Setting up the People’s Gallery, photo courtesy of City Hall

“Tell me this: I can’t turn. Can you tell me what’s behind me?” the text message read. In a normal instance, this message would seem strange. However, it’s just the type of messages street furniture all over Austin are sending.

This specific message came from a fire hydrant, one of hundreds of objects around Austin participating in a public art piece called Hello Lamppost. Hello Lamppost enables Austin residents and visitors to interact with their surroundings and learn a little more about each other and their city through their cell phones.

To read more about public art in Austin, visit