News Column

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Eric Heyl column

July 11, 2014

By Eric Heyl, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

July 11--Try to outdo Dr. Dolittle.

Some people might think that suggestion to Pittsburgh officials would do little to solve the city's financial problems. But perhaps the city could save money by not just talking to animals, but putting them to work.

That's what the nonprofit Tree Pittsburgh did on Tuesday, when it eschewed hiring laborers and brought a herd of about 30 goats to graze on vegetation along a Polish Hill hillside. The goats soon had a bellyful of plants, weeds and vines that could have threatened 110 trees the organization plans to plant there.

Mayor Bill Peduto's administration should consider a similar tack on a trial basis. Surely he could cut a deal with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to have animals perform some of the jobs held by city workers.

Could be a win-win for the city and the zoo. The city could trim personnel costs, and the zoo might receive national accolades for unprecedented vocational training provided to its creatures.

Obviously, not every job could be outsourced to the animal kingdom. But certain animals seem to be near-perfect matches for certain positions.

All it would take is for city officials to outdo Dolittle -- and with a name like his, how difficult could that be?

--Creature: Lions

Position: 311 Line response center operator

These majestic beasts' ferocious roars would intimidate callers to the city complaint line (oops, I mean calls to what officially is referred to as the "non-emergency concerns" number).

Complaints could drop dramatically, as people prematurely hang up out of fear the 311 operator could use Caller ID and Google Maps to track down and devour them.

--Creature: Pigs

Position: Country music concert cleanup crew

Since they often dine on scraps and garbage, pigs would be perfect animals to patrol parking lots and streets around Heinz Field and PNC Park the next time Kenny Chesney or Luke Bryan come to town.

As conditions deteriorate and fans strew tons of garbage on the ground, it finally would be possible to conclusively determine whether piggish tailgaters enjoy rolling around in slop more than actual swine.

--Creature: Elephants

Position: Asphalt compactor

Why have Public Works employees manually tamp down newly patched potholes, or use a rolling machine to ensure the smoothness of a freshly paved street? If you've seen circus elephants perform, you know they can be trained to use their enormous feet to perform those tasks.

Let Dumbo do the dirty work.

--Creature: Dolphins

Position: Swimming pool lifeguards

Experiencing difficulty in the deep end? Make this personnel move and there would be no need to wait for a suntanning lifeguard to climb out of his or her chair. Just grab hold of a passing dolphin swimming nearby.

It would cost far more to pay lifeguards than to feed dolphins, which subsist largely on bottom-dwelling invertebrates.

There's no need to scour the sea floor for those.

Plenty can be found in high-paying positions in the City-County Building.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or


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