A talent show for man's best friends

Jacoby the beagle was more interested in sniffing the competitors than in beating them.

The dog's owner, Deb Haarsager, tried to prompt him by singing "Amazing Grace," but it didn't work.

"He always howls along," Haarsager said.

Jacoby was among some 25 dogs and cats taking part in the Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) Opera's first talent show for pets last weekend.

Purebreds and mixed breeds competed in five categories, including stage antics - tricks - and bel canto - singing and howling.

Speaking of dogs...

Here's some advice for skiers near the Sawtooth National Recreational Area in Sun Valley, Idaho: Clean up your act.

The usually pristine ski trails north of Ketchum are noticeably less so this year as a growing number of skiers bring along their dogs, leaving their droppings along the way.

Courtesy Ski Patroller Cindy Hamlin picks up as many as 40 piles a day on a 4-mile section of the trail near the Sawtooth headquarters.

To keep the trails from turning into minefields, Blaine County Recreation District Trail Coordinator Shelley Preston has erected signs reminding skiers that county code requires dog owners to remove their pets' waste or face a $300 fine.

Problem is, said Preston, some people have been filling the bags and then leaving them alongside the trails, as if they expect a garbage man to collect them.

"This year is the worst year we've ever had. We've gone through twice as many Pet Pick-Up bags as we did last year and we still have more dog waste along the trail," said Preston, who estimated 3,500 bags have been handed out so far.

Married for ... ice?

Kelly Merchand and Mike Malmborg got a chilly start to married life.

The couple were married Saturday at an ice rink in Cadillac, Mich., in front of friends, family, and teammates from their league hockey teams. A DJ played a Detroit Red Wings theme song.

Merchand and Malmborg wore hockey jerseys and pastor Bryan McConnell performed the ceremony while wearing a black-and-white striped referee's jersey.

A huge cake designed to emulate the Stanley Cup awaited the newlyweds, who clearly aren't your everyday hockey fans.

"We just wanted something unique," Merchand said after the Saturday wedding.

2002 was a tough year to be rich - unless you're Oprah

The uneven economy took its toll on the world's wealthiest again last year, according to Forbes magazine. Its annual billionaires list is 21 names shorter, at 476, for 2002 than for the year before. And while Microsoft chairman Bill Gates held the top spot for a ninth straight year, his estimated worth fell 23 percent in 2002, to $40.7 billion. At the same time, TV talk-show host and magazine publisher Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to break into the ranks of the exclusive club. She is tied for 427th place, according to the magazine, with a net worth of exactly $1 billion. The richest of the rich, their sources of wealth, and their estimated net worth (in billions):

1. Bill Gates, Microsoft $40.7
2. Warren Buffett, investments 30.5
3. Theo/Karl Albrecht, Germany, supermarkets 25.6
4. Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder 20.1
5. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal al-Saud, Saudi Arabia, investments 17.7
6. Lawrence Ellison, Oracle founder 16.6
7. Helen Walton, Alice Walton, S. Robson Walton, Jim Walton, John Walton, Wal-Mart 16.5

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