TANNER THE PIT BULL: April 13, 2008 – June 16, 2018

Tanner close#2When we plucked Tanner from our local shelter just over nine years ago, we were left to guess his age. All we knew was that the big brown dog had been turned in by a Good Samaritan who found him huffing along on a busy road in Ventura County farmland, emaciated and exhausted. He couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us about the scars on his muzzle and belly but they hinted at a violent past, most likely as a failed fight dog. Hoping to cheat Time, we took a stab that he was around a year old, still a puppy with plenty of time ahead of him.

Our new addition was scared and scarred but right from the jump you could see that he had that intangible spark that separates really good dogs from the great ones.  It took a little time for his true personality to assert itself, as he struggled with loud noises, raised voices and car trips that ALWAYS ended with a bout of vomiting. Even so, we respected his unique Tanner-ness and held fast to the belief that, with patience and love, he’d blossom into something truly special.NKLA - T & E - 5:5:13

To speed his healing, Eugenie never took her hands off him. Wary at first, he came to crave her touch. To help us bond more quickly, we decided he should sleep beside us. Several times a week, I’d wake during the night and reach for my water glass only to spill it onto his massive, uncomplaining head. To spare him the indignity of my clumsiness, we moved his bed to the foot of ours. The new arrangement was great with the lights on, but getting up to pee in the dark meant tapping and tiptoeing between the dresser and the sleeping dog like Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. I complained a bit (hey, I’m Italian, I complain about everything) but, on my way back from the john, I’d stop to stroke his flank and adjust his blanket like any good dad.

With the benefit of affection and regular meals, our scrawny boy packed on the muscle. We congratulated ourselves on his startling transformation from starving, skittish stray to Best Dog Ever. The truth is that he came to us ready to wear. From day one, he was a low maintenance gentleman who never begged for food, soiled the house, or jumped on visitors or the furniture without permission. Beneath his buff exterior, was a ‘Mommy dog’ that adored other canines, especially puppies. No fan of drunks, he was terrified of cats, rabbits, goats, and our neighbor’s teacup pig Gumball. The sound of the trash truck turned him to Jell-O. The July 4th pyrotechnics left him quaking for days. True to his SoCal roots, he hated rain and the summer heat except if he was chasing gulls in the surf. CIMG2627

Once he felt safe with us, there emerged a furry Rain Man who settled into a fixed routine – a long morning loop around our complex, always east to west, then an appetizer of steamed milk, breakfast, and some post-meal play with his stuffed ‘babies’. A lunchtime stroll – this one west to east – then a run at the beach or a romp at the park, dinner, cuddles, and a final nighttime circuit to check on his doggie neighbors. Like a politician running for office, he greeted everyone we met. And they returned the favor. When they heard the jingle of his leash or the clicking of his nails on the sidewalk, our neighbors and their pets would rush outside to spend a few minutes in the comforting presence of the ‘mayor’. Any change in our pattern, however, even a minor one like a cloudy day, brought a furrowed brow and a sullen lip. And God forbid we moved his bed or tossed a shredded toy.

99 % of the people who met Tanner loved him on sight, won over by his easygoing, affable nature, striking good looks, and those humongous eyes that seemed to bore into your soul. The other 1% we ignored, unless they offered pit bull slurs and prejudice. Then they were sent packing by Tanner’s less good-natured dad.

When the city opened a dog park near our home, it became his Shangri-La. Every afternoon, he’d sidle up to my desk and pepper me with dramatic moans and groans, insisting we ditch work and join the Four O’clock regulars – Lady, a gentle giant of a Dane, Bobby, a Welsh corgi motor-mouth with the temper of Tony Soprano, Magnus, a rollicking, prancing Irish setter, and Rocky, a mischievous, fun-loving frat boy disguised as a golden retriever. Having said hello to the gang, He’d have a joyous time walking the perimeter like a 4-legged sentry, or play fighting with the puppies, or tunneling under the fence, a habit that earned him the nickname ‘El Chapo’.Tanner dog party 7/31/15

At the clang of the gate, our ‘greeter’ would break off digging and fly to welcome the newcomers. He was merely excited but it gave people pause to see a hulking pit bull bearing down on them, a maniacal grin plastered on his mug, bursting to meet (or eat?) their pets. Not that they were in danger, just the opposite. If dogs tried to bully him or assert their dominance, he’d roll away, tail wagging, like a canine Tai Chi master until they gave up and lost interest. Whenever other dogs threatened to fight, he’d rush between the combatants and gently shove them apart, reminding them to play nice.

He had the same effect on me. Until he came along, I’d given up on taming the roiling anger that had haunted me from childhood. But my desire to give Tanner a safe, loving home forced me to confront my issues in all their full-blown ugliness. Loving him so fully stretched my heart. Healing my dog helped me heal myself and became a better man.Image 1

My wife insisted that I share our story. After years of near misses in entertainment, I had little hope for our small, self-published book. As if by magic, doors flew open and people rushed to help us spread the tale of the damaged pit bull that saved the angry man who had rescued him. There were book signings, personal appearances, print and radio interviews, photo shoots, even a cable TV show.  We headed cancer walks and the blessing of the animals. I enjoyed the attention but Tanner ate it up. Watching him preen and pose, it dawned on us that the shelter folks had lied. This was no pit bull; this dog was a publicity hound! Book sales were surprisingly good and we paid it forward, donating the profits to rescue charities. It was typical Tanner: showing us a fun life and while helping others.Lou and Eugenie in malibu

If our adoption guesstimate was right, our baby was now past ten and very possibly older. Not that he acted like a senior citizen, far from it. He was still happy and full of life, overjoyed to run with the gangly pups at the park and to threaten the coyotes that stalked the hills behind our place.

The past six months, however, we’d noticed some alarming signs: more snow on his handsome tan face, less rumbling with his younger dog friends, a hesitation to fling himself on the bed for nighttime cuddles, opting for the easier climb up the bench. Sitting up on his haunches, paws extended like a Bombay beggar, demanding his pre-dinner dental bone had morphed into mere sitting. Instead of bounding up the stairs for our nighttime walk, he plodded to join us. If we stopped to chat with friends, he plopped down and waited patiently until we finished jawing. We hated to admit it but our indestructible boy had lost a gear; he was clearly slowing down.

So what if he was? Everyone ages. Look at me, with my graying hair and Rice Krispie joints, I’d long ago given up 10k races, spin jump back kicks, and late nights swing dancing. In ‘dog years’, Tanner and I were nearly the same age and I needed two days to recover from a spirited game of HORSE. We could accept the fact that our boy was growing old as long as he was happy and healthy and we were all together. Then came that Thursday when everything changed.

He was puppy play posturing with a young shepherd at the park when he yelped softly and pulled up short, his right rear leg dangling ominously. I was right there when it happened and I knew that ‘yelp’ wasn’t good, not from a wrecking machine that could plow full-speed into a metal 4 X 4 support beam and not so much as flinch. It meant a pulled muscle or a bulging disk or even a torn ACL, an injury common in pit bulls.

Eugenie is a skilled shiatsu masseuse who has spent decades successfully treating people, dogs, and even horses. As she probed his flank in the shade beneath the pavilion where the dog people congregate to gossip, we prayed that her magic fingers would unknot some nasty spasm and we’d all limp home together, a bit sore but otherwise okay. The massage didn’t help and so I scooped him into my arms – all 60 pounds – and carried him down the 40+stairs, across the lot to our car.

At the vet’s, they gave him a sedative and led him away for x-rays. We braced for word that he’d be facing orthopedic surgery and a long recovery in a townhouse that is nothing but stairs. The expense would crush our self-employed artists’ budget and getting him up and down would trash my back but we’d do whatever it took to get him well.

“Have a seat”, our vet said as he ushered us to a bench in the corner of the waiting room. His tone was gentle and kind. Too kind. Having checked Tanner’s leg, he ruled out musculoskeletal problems but a funky looking section of the x-ray near the dog’s right hip had him concerned. While he couldn’t be sure without further tests, it looked like bone cancer.

Bone cancer! The words pierced us like shrapnel. Bone cancer! Impossible! No way our strapping dog could be that ill without us knowing. Why just the week before he’d spent a manic hour at the park rumbling balls-out with one of his gawky adolescent playmates.

The vet offered to send the x-rays to an expert radiologist for a second opinion. As he rose to go, I choked out, “And if it is bone cancer, what then?” It was a dumb question I wanted to take back the moment I asked. “I’m afraid there are no good options. It’s a fast moving disease and very painful.” The rest was a blur.

Back home, we formed a litter with his blanket and carried him downstairs to his bed where he slept through the night, blissfully ignorant that our lives had come apart. Eugenie and I tossed and turned until dawn, buoyed by the slim hope that the radiologist would call and say it was all a terrible mistake, that our doctor had blown the call and that we were merely dealing with a bad sprain or a broken bone, or the onset of arthritis. Our aching hearts knew better.

About mid-morning, Tanner shook off his drug-induced lethargy and gobbled down a bowl of kibble and hamburger. I hauled him outside, hoping he’d ‘go’. He fixed those soulful eyes on me like I’d gone mad and laid down in the bushes, content to bask in the sun and snout the beach air.

That afternoon, Tanner’s doggie godmother came by to check on him. He popped up, tail beating the air, and limped to greet her. She had tears in her eyes and so did we. The clock inched forward as we waited for our vet to call with an apology and a reprieve. It was early evening when the phone finally rang. The jury was in, the verdict unanimous. It was time to say goodbye.

Next morning, after another haunted night, I called to make the arrangements. Fighting back sobs, I could barely force out the words. Things were moving at warp speed and our heads were reeling. We wanted, needed, more time, to hold him close and shower him with kisses and hugs.

As word leaked out, friends and neighbors called to ask if they could say ‘goodbye’. For two hours, Tanner entertained a stream of tearful guests and their dogs, gratefully devouring their treats and affection. He was a dog prince holding court for his loyal subjects. If he had any inkling of what lay in store, he hid it like a Vegas poker ace.

At noon, I cradled him in my arms and carried him outside for one last walk. As he was hopping down the sidewalk, a neighbor emerged with a pair of French bulldog puppies in tow. Although he wasn’t close to his old rambunctious self, he stopped to sniff the wiggly tubbies, gently nudging them, letting them know that this was still his fiefdom and there were rules to be followed. After all, he was till the ‘mayor’.

At the vet’s, we hunkered down on the floor with Tanner, stroking his chest and cooing his name, thanking him for all the love and memories of our glorious but too-brief time together as he quietly dozed off. And then he was gone.CIMG8708

Picture a jazz trio whose drummer has quit mid-set, struggling vainly to find their rhythm – that’s us since we lost Tanner. Every place we look, everywhere we go, there’s a shadow looming over us, an aching void that only time will dispel. It’s there in the empty rug where his bed once sat, in the bare cupboard shelf that held his food and treats, in the piercing, doe-eyed photos sliding endlessly across my computer screen.

It was a terrible but easy decision to send him off, sparing him from the certain agony that lay in store. So then why do we feel so awful? Perhaps it’s because we’ve run out of ‘firsts’ – first squeaky toy, first ocean swim, first raccoon sighting – leaving us with only pangs of what was and never will be again. No more pants stuffed with caches of liver treats, no more shirts with drool-smeared sleeves where he’d rest his head in the car, no more steaming milk for his breakfast like some barista at a doggie Starbucks, no blasting Vivaldi to drown out the crunch of the garbage truck, no more ditching 4th of July cookouts to huddle in the dark with our shell-shocked boy, no more play-fighting on the bedroom floor, no more savoring that sweet musty scent that was his and his alone, no more slurpy, sloppy, delicious pit bull kisses.

It’s a Faustian bargain we dog lovers make: We’ll pour our hearts and souls into our four-legged kids, knowing that, in all likelihood, they will leave this world before us. Even so, we jump at the chance to spend our days in the company of demanding, snoring, flatulent beasts that devour our time, attention, chicken parmigiana and sometimes even our vintage Air Jordans.

You could say that’s the price of being a dog owner, but you would be wrong, for it’s our dogs that own us body and soul. Ours did, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I look forward to the day when I cuddle with Eugenie in the morning and she whispers in my ear that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to drive across the hill to the shelter where we found Tanner and audition his replacement. When that day comes, we’ll tell ourselves that the new boy will never hold a candle to his predecessor, that we’ll never love him like we did Tanner. That will be a lie. Because if there’s one thing Tanner taught us it’s that, when it comes to the love between man and dog, too much ain’t enough. DSCN1268_21st Pepperdine ShootSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES



The screen adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron‘s hugely successful novel, A Dog’s Purpose, will hit theaters on January 27. Starring Dennis Quaid, it reframes the basic existential question in canine terms. Even if you haven’t read the book, it’s not hard to guess the simple answer: love. As any self-respecting canine can attest, we dogs live to give and get it. That said, there’s a second issue to consider: What is a dog’s worth? For some pet guardians like my mom and dad, there’s no amount of cash that would cause them to sever our amazing bond. While the emotional value of loving a dog is hard if not impossible to calculate, the financial costs of sharing your home with 4-legged friends can come as a jolt to first-time dog guardians. According to a recent story by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy in the Chicago Tribune, the annual tab can run from $695 (ASPCA)  to $1,640 (American Pet Products Association), a figure that includes food, shelter and basic medical expenses. If your dog suffers an accident, a severe illness, or develops a chronic condition, that amount could be higher. Much, much higher. Add to that the time and energy a pet requires and you soon realize that having a dog is a serious responsibility. So, if you are thinking about getting a dog, consider everything that comes with it. If you’re still sold, take the plunge but choose wisely, opting for one that fits your budget, energy, and lifestyle. 

Mishaps Can Prove Costly, Just Ask Porter

Whether you choose a four-figure pedigree pooch or a $50 shelter adoptee, you’ll have to do you part to keep your new baby safe. That includes keeping your dog properly secured at all times. For house dwellers, that means installing tall, dog-proof fencing or a dog run with appropriate shelter from the heat and cold, and keeping your dog leashed when out in public. Failing to do so can have tragic results. In late December, The Los Angeles Times reported an incident in Riverside County in which a pit bull running loose attacked an killed a neighbor’s small dog. The owner of the slain dog then stabbed and killed the pit bull, prompting criminal charges. The article noted that both dogs had previously been cited for running loose. While the Times is to be praised for urging dog owners to secure their pets, quotes from Riverside County Animal Services Public Relations Director Thomas Welsh gave a misleading impression about pit bulls. In the article  Welsh claimed that pit bulls have a strong predator instinct. “They’re going to go after smaller dogs. That’s what they do.”  While some pit bulls might display a strong prey drive, to tar the entire breed with that simplistic brush is patently unfair and untrue. It smacks of the canard, advanced by advocates of Breed Specific Legislation, that some breeds are “inherently dangerous”, a position with no scientific basis repudiated by veterinarians, animals behaviorists, and President Obama. As for pit bulls chasing small dogs on sight, in the 9 years since I left the Agoura Shelter, I’ve been attacked numerous times by small dogs wandering off-leash. Whenever it happens, I’m always taken aback. My first reaction is to wonder what I did to get them so upset with me. It’s scary and the nips are painful but never once have I tried to retaliate. While dog moms and dads have a responsibility to keep us under control, regardless of size, newspapers like the Times have a duty to filter fact from pit bull fiction. 

Hoping ‘Taco’ Doesn’t Turn On Me

Since we’re on the subject of pit bulls, bad raps, and the LA Times, they recently ran another story analyzing just how pit bulls went from being beloved nanny dogs (a claim the story questions) to feared killers. The article cites Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tuft’s University school of veterinary medicine and the author of “Dogs Behaving Badly”, who admits that pit bulls are no more likely to bite people than other breeds. But when they do, their power and biting style make injuries more likely. While pit bulls are the most recent breed to be demonized (following bloodhounds, German shepherds and Rottweilers) pit bull advocate Troy Smith suggests that the Belgian Malinois, favored in police and military service, may supplant the pit bull as the next ‘most dangerous’ breed. 

Belgian Malinois – The Next ‘Bad Dog’?



While we might sometimes question the causes they fight for, we owe our gratitude and respect to the men and women who put their lives on the line in service to our country. Among my personal circle of heroes, here’s a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for dear friends Joe Simone, Dan Cohen, and John Dellasala, and  a prayer that our leaders will think long and hard before putting any our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters in harm’s way. While not nearly as numerous as two-legged servicemen and women, war dogs continue to play a key role in our nation’s defense. As Josh Weiss-Roessler noted in a Cesar Millan’s recent newsletter, after months and sometimes years of rigorous training meant to hone their already keen senses, canine soldiers are tasked with guarding installations, capturing the enemy and detecting explosives and other contraband. But what happens to these warriors when their hitch is up? In the past, they were ‘retired’ – euthanized – when they became too old or unable to perform their duties. Thankfully, a law passed in 2000 allows for the adoption of phased out war dogs. Prospective adoptees and their would be owners must both be evaluated to insure a smooth transition to civilian life, which means creating an environment that provides lots of structure and discipline. Interested in taking on the challenge? Contact the Warrior Dog Foundation.

Thank you all!

On a related note, two paws up to canine recent police academy grad Kiah, who will now team with Officer Justin Bruzgul working to detect drugs and locate missing persons for the Poughkeepsie, NY Police Department.  While the vast majority of law enforcement dogs are either German shepherds or Belgian Malinois, pit bulls are a rarity. As the recent NY Post story rightly points out, the breed’s reputation for violence is “undeserved” and the result of human ignorance and neglect.  Recent studies have found no correlation between dog breeds and dog attacks, and they have shown that specific breed bans (BSL), like the one being considered in Montreal, fail to reduce dog attacks.

Kiah and partner Officer Justin Bruzgul

Sadly, many military and law enforcement personnel can suffer from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that sometimes affects their canine partners as well. But even pampered pets, whose closest brush with danger is a feisty squirrel or a TV shootout, can fall victim to the disorder. Writing for Cesar’s Way, Nicole Pajer says, “Dogs can be thrown into a state of extreme stress over a variety of different experiences. Common causes may include weather – natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, car accidents, Household accidents, and physical or emotional trauma during interactions with people or other animals.” Indeed. For nearly a year after he joined our home, Tanner couldn’t stomach (literally, as the gallons vomit flowed) riding in the car. Why? Our best guess is that he’d been abused – perhaps as a bait dog for a fight ring – and associated the abuse with the motor travel. Even now, after years of patient rehabilitation, the July 4 fireworks evoke a yearly nightmare, along with popping champagne corks and gusty Santa Ana winds. They were blowing the other evening and Eugenie woke the next morning to find him missing from his normal spot on the bed in my office. Instead, he was precariously perched on the desk, his facing the corner. Scratching her head, she helped back him down. He spent the rest of the day looking tired and out of sorts, wrung out by his encounter with the ‘devil winds’.

Tanner in a calmer moment


Many people (and dogs) I know tend to think of Canadians as plain spoken, common sensical folks, who (Rob Ford aside) tend to refrain from the USA’s more vulgar and ill-conceived excesses. Recently, however, officials in Montreal endorsed BSL – Breed Specific Legislation – aimed at, yes, that’s right, pit bulls. If enacted, the law would, among other things, ban new ownership of “pit bull-type” dogs, requiring owners to go through a background check and muzzle their dogs when in public. Some U.S. cities (Denver, Miami), and some entire countries (France, Spain, U.K, New Zealand) have adopted similar bans even though science has show that pit bulls (bred from bulldogs and other terriers) are no more inherently violent than other breeds. Among the notable advocates to condemn BSL are President Obama and the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. In this video, he makes a case for America’s most unjustly maligned dogs. It may seem like we’re piling on but Bronwen Dickey, author of “Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon” calls the ban”stupid” and anything but specific. In a recent LA Times Op Ed piece, she shreds BSL, offering evidence of its ineffectiveness. For me, my human parents, and all our dog and dog guardian friends, BSL is just BS. If you’d like to help, write to Montreal official, asking them to reconsider the ill-advised action, and offering to boycott their industries and sport teams if they don’t.

Typecast Pity Bulls.jpg

Actress and rescue activist Linda Blair offered some reasons why BSL doesn’t work, and some suggestions to implement instead. Why BSL does NOT work: It’s not financially sound as it often ties up community resources while cases are determined. Many folks cannot properly identify the breed in question. Any dog (or companion animal for that matter) can bite. It has NO scientific basis and is not supported by the following organizations:

– American Bar Association

– American Kennel Club

– American Veterinary Medical Association

– Center for Disease Control and Prevention

– National Animal Control Association

– National Canine Research Council

– The Obama Administration

– State Farm Insurance

– The U.S. Department of Housing and Development

– The U.S. Department of Justice

Instead of ineffective posturing, concerned legislators should focus on:

– The importance and necessity of spaying a neutering, so we can end pet overpopulation.

– Ending puppy mills, so we can end of the suffering of Mama dogs who’s feet often times never touch the ground.

– The importance of micro chipping, so beloved pets can return home.

– The importance of vaccinations, so we can eradicate diseases like parvo that leave innocent puppies suffering.

– Updating our licensing laws so that pet “owners” are held responsible for animals actions, not the animal.

– Updating pet “ownership” laws – we are pet guardians meant to serve and protect our beloved companions.


Linda Blair, rescue advocate

Like so many other human foibles, BSL makes me wonder just how superior our human partners are. It’s a favorite theme of my dad, Lou, who currently has his large but mainly decorative snout buried in Carl Safina‘s fabulous book, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think And Feel”. A highly decorated writer, scientist, and academic, Safina suggests that we’re all animals with humans just one shade of a larger animal rainbow. He’s struck by how animals live in harmony with nature and each other except for one particular creature that seems hellbent on wreaking as much mayhem as possible. Cesar Millan has a similar take: ”Humans are good at a lot of things. When it comes to creating art or doing science or excelling any of hundreds of other pursuits that we have invented, no animal can beat us.  Crows will never discover a cure for cancer.  An elephant will never create a masterpiece – despite what you’ve heard about elephants painting in Thailand.  What we lack in fur or feathers we make up for an intellect.  When it works for us, we do things like travel to the moon or create “Hamilton” or invent new and better machines to make our lives easier.  That’s part of what makes us human.  Unfortunately, we also excel at something that no animal can do.  Humans are experts at working against Nature at every opportunity.”


In all the commotion about pit bull discrimination, I forgot to say congratulations to my ‘mom’, ace sculptor Eugenie Spirito, for her participation in the recent art show at Canvas Malibu and for 28 years of  marriage to my loving but sometimes grumpy dad. They were wed in Verona, Italy at Juliet’s Tomb and recently celebrated their continuing good fortune with the brief holiday in nearby Ventura and Ojai, where a certain dashing pit bull got to join the fun and guard the room while they were off wining and dining.


With ‘Dad’ in Ventura, CA


Normally, our posts focus on dog matters, usually the exploits of one especially charming pit bull. This time around, however, we’d like to shine the spotlight on some of our favorite two-legged creatures. Longtime bff and poet/painter extraordinaire, Linda Simone has several ‘Charley’ poems in an upcoming anthology of dog poems titled “To Unsnare Time’s Warp” (Main Street Rag Press).  The volume is due out in October, and you can order copies at the mainstreetbookstore.com. I’m particularly excited to read them since I was with Linda and her awesome playwright hubby Joe (another buon amico from my Iona College days), the day they first brought Charley home from the shelter. The lucky rescue mix lived a long, healthy, happy life as a part of their amazing family. He’ll always be in our memories, and now he’s immortalized in verse as well. If your poetry jones won’t wait until October, grab a copy of Linda’s amazing collection Archaeology and prepare to be blown away by her searching, soulful mastery.

Charley Simone

The girl power shout-outs continue, this time to our favorite badass lady stone carver, my mom, Eugenie Spirito, who is profiled in the Fall issue of Malibu Times Magazine. The writer, Kamala Kirk, really captured the spirit of Eugenie’s artistic focus and inspiration. To make matters even sweeter, mom’s mentioned on the cover along with rock legends Stephen Tyler and Peter Frampton, and acting giants Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey. Thanks to the lovely Roxanne McCann for setting up the story and for the beautiful photo of mom and her work at Canvas Malibu. I’m proud to say that the other shot – of my ‘smoking’ hot mom hard at work – was taken by ‘dad’ during a break from his scribbling.

Eugenie – Heady Company

‘Smokin’ Hot Artist

At Canvas Malibu

While humans get the glory this go-round, Cesar Millan had a nice blog article about the different approaches needed when dealign with fearful and fearless (assertive) dogs. As his fans know, Millan claims it’s much easier to rehabilitate ‘aggressive’ or fearless dogs than a timid ones, since all that’s needed it to redirect their positive energy in a way that puts you, the pack leader, in control of the situation by showing them that good things happen when they do as you ask. “The interesting thing about fearless dogs is that, because they want to be in control, once you teach them what they have to do before you’ll do what they want, they’ll go out of their way to do it because, in their mind, they’re not responding to your actions; you’re responding to theirs. It’s the ultimate in reverse psychology. Fearless dogs like to show off. Once you’ve taught them a routine, don’t be surprised if they start performing the actions before you ask. The second your body language says “walk”, they’ll be sitting by the door waiting for you – which is what you wanted all along.” Fearful dogs, like a certain handsome pit bull we know, pose a thornier challenge since you need to first rebuild their shattered trust by assuring them that nothing bad will happen if they do as you ask. As fans of GIMME SHELTER know, it can be a long, slow, even messy process, but with patience and gentile assertive energy, the transformation can be startling and oh so rewarding.

Tanner – TLC Cures a Fearful Pup



For many film fans, the name Christopher Walken conjures up a host of moody, intense, and sometimes dangerous cinematic characters. If asked to guess his preference in pets, we might think, rats, bats, or snakes…very lethal snakes. But that would be way, way off base. In a recent issue of Parade Magazine, the super-talented thespian confessed to being the doting daddy of a feral cat. Makes you wonder how many other books (and people) we’ve misjudged by looking only at the cover.

Cuddly Christopher Walken

As reported in the LosAngeles Times on July 30, a new study published in Science Advances concludes that eastern and red wolves are actually a subspecies of the gray wolf and not two distinct species as previously believed. DNA analysis of all three populations revealed their common ancestry as well as the presence of coyote DNA in the red and eastern wolves. It’s the prevalence of coyote ancestry – 75% in red wolves and 25% in eastern – that accounts for the differences in size and appearance. Conservationists are hopeful that the new findings will ensure the continued protection of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act.

Gray Wolves

We were thrilled to read that California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed A.B.1825 into law. The bill provides that dogs confiscated from convicted dog fighters will now be eligible for rehabilitation and, if successful, adoption. Previously, such dogs were deemed ‘dangerous’ and euthanized. Kudos to all of the rescue organizations and concerned dog lovers who helped secure the bills passage. In another triumph for animal rescue, NBC’s sponsorship of the ‘ClearThe Shelters’ one-day event proved to be a huge success. According to the just-released figures, 6000 animals were adopted in Southern California on July 23 and more than 45,000 nationwide.

Willa, a fight dog saved by Karma Rescue

Finally, a hearty shout out to L.A. County SupervisorMichael D. Antonovitch for his proposal to create a much-needed animal shelter at the County’s Pitchess Detention center in Castaic. If approved, the plan would attempt to address two of the region’s most pressing concerns – overcrowded shelters in the rehabilitation of repeat offenders. Based on successful efforts like Karma Rescue’s ‘Paws For Life’ at the Lancaster (CA) men’s prison, the Prison Pet Partnership (WA), and Paws In Prison (AR), the program would provide care for animals in need while giving inmates an emotional lift and offering job training for possible future employment in the animal care industry.

Paws For Life in action



Dog lovers will go to just about any lengths to show their pets how much they love them, but, deep down, their affection pales when compared to the loyalty we show them. For Credo, a K-9 officer in the Long Beach, CA Police Department, that devotion meant making the ultimate sacrifice. As reported by NBC-4, on June 28, the 4-year-old Begian Malinois, and his partner, Officer Mike Parcells, were involved in a standoff with an man wanted in connection with an assault. When the suspect produced a knife and advanced toward the SWAT team, officers opened fire killing the man and fatally wounding Credo who died in his partner’s arms. As his body was removed from the nearby pet hospital, tearful officers lined up to salute their fallen K-9 comrade who was involved in 30 apprehensions in his two years’ of duty. 

Credo & partner Officer Mike Parcells

Who doesn’t love the 4th of July? There’s hotdogs, beer, hamburgers, beer, soda, ice cream, apple pie, beer, sparklers, firecrackers, beer, and, if many places, public fireworks. While humans love the excess that comes with feting America’s birthday, for us pets, drunken revelers and “bombs bursting in air” can be a epic nightmare. Not surprisingly, the number of dogs and cats that end up MIA on July 4 dwarfs all other days. While you might not be able to police the neighborhood teens and their cherry bombs or have enough juice to cancel the community display, if you plan on leaving Fido alone while you celebrate, there are some common sense steps you can take to keep him safe and calm. First, before the shelling starts, secure your dogs (and cats) in a safe indoor place, hopefully one with no means of escape. Leaving dogs in a back yard, even one with a high fence, isn’t a good idea since fear can propel a dog to impressive heights or cause him to tunnel his way to freedom. A dog tied up on a second story balcony might panic and jump off, injuring or strangling himself. Left alone in an upper story room with open windows, he might dive through the screen before realizing that he can’t really fly. The best scenario is to secure your BFF (best fluffy friend) in a bedroom or bathroom with the doors and windows closed to muffle loud sounds and prevent escape. Consider playing music – Vivaldi not Metallica – to help sooth the dog’s nerves.  Some pet guardians swaddle their dogs in a ThunderShirt, a tight fitting garment that gently hugs the dog. If the price is prohibitive, try a T-shirt but make sure it’s snug and has your scent on it. In our house mom douses my bed with Adaptil, a synthetic pheromone that helps keep me chill. For very jittery dogs, consider Rescue Remedy or even doggie tranquilizers. Even the best laid plans can go awry so make sure your dog is wearing his collar and ID tag with your contact information plainly visible. If you haven’ already done so, microchip him, too. You can even get a dog GPS and tracking app but a dog on the run might lose his collar or damage the tracker. If, despite all your precautions, your dog turns up lost, contact all of the local veterinarians and nearby animal shelters. Be sure to send them a recent photo. And don’t delay, while many shelters will hold pets for extended periods, some of the more crowded ones don’t. Wait too long and you might learn that your dog has been adopted out or maybe even euthanized.

Tanner: a proud American Staffordshire Terrier and Old Glory

To ease the certain post-4th of July influx of dogs and cats, the always-awesome Best Friends Animal Society is partnering with equally terrific Los Angeles Animal Services to offer $10 adoptions at all eight city locations, and the Best Friends centers (open noon to 8 p.m.) in Mission Hills and West L.A., through the holiday weekend. Their goal is to for each center to place 100 rescue cats and dogs in loving homes. It’s a formidable number but don’t bet against Best Friends. At their June 4 & 5 No Kill L.A. mega-adoption, 679 cats and dogs found loving homes – their greatest number ever!


Anyone who lives or has lived with a dog knows we canines have heart. If you had your doubts, consider the case if ‘Freeway Frida’, a 5-year-old German Shepherd who survived for five weeks on a freeway median near Galt, CA,  after tumbling from the back of a truck. Thanks to Galt Police officer Sylvia Coelho and her counterparts from the CHP, the emaciated Frida was finally rescued and brought to the vet where she was treated for two broken bones and severe weight loss. According to the May 24 LA Times report by Daniel Serna, Frida managed to stay alive by sipping scant rainwater and foraging for plants and road scraps. What a lucky, plucky, dog.


Freeway Frida

While we often tout the myriad virtues of pit bulls, many other breeds are equally amazing. This week’s honors go to German Shepherds, specifically Haus, a 2-year-old shepherd who stepped into harm’s way when an Eastern diamondback rattler menaced his family’s 7-year-old daughter. As reported by ABC News, Haus sustained several bites, resulting in thousands of dollars in vet bills. Thanks to generous donors, a GoFundMe account to cover the expenses has already topped $35,000.


Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

While most dogs will never encounter a venomous snake, knowing what to do could save your pup’s life in the event it ever happens (from GIMME SHELTER, resource Howie Baker, DVM). “Most rattlesnake venom is “hemotoxic”, meaning that it compromises the integrity of blood vessels, causing swelling that impairs circulation and normal clotting, which can lead to uncontrolled bleeding, shock, and death. The venom of the Mojave rattler is “neurotoxic,” causing rapid paralysis of the respiratory system and suffocation. The seriousness of a bite depends on the type of snake, the size of the dog, and the amount of venom injected. Some bites are “dry” (no venom injected), and only a small percentage of bites are fatal, but all snakebites should be considered serious and treated as emergencies, even in vaccinated dogs. Facial bites are particularly serious, since swelling may block the throat or hinder the ability to breathe. Seek immediate veterinary attention and do not try to cut the bite wound open or suck out the poison. The treatment for a snake bite consists of the following:

  • IV Fluids. Since the most common cause of death from snakebites is circulatory failure, IV support (administration of fluids via catheter), and blood pressure monitoring are very important.
  • Antivenin. Antivenin can be very helpful in the inactivation of snake venom but there is a narrow window (approx. 4 hrs.) during which it must be used. It’s especially crucial with small dogs (and cats), since the amount of venom they receive per pound is much greater than with large dogs.
  • Antihistamines. Injected antihistamines may help with the inflammation from the actual bite and in preventing possible anaphylactic reaction to antivenin

To avoid the anxiety and expense consider investing in avoidance training and having your dog vaccinated. Through the use of a shock collar, the trainer applies a mild stimulus to teach the dog to avoid the sound, smell, and sight of defanged or muzzled reptiles. Check to see if your local Parks & Recreation Department offers avoidance training. In Malibu, group classes start at around $70.00. Rattlesnake vaccine offers protection against the venom of the Western Diamondback and the other rattlers except the Mojave Rattlesnake. Most dogs require two-three doses at a cost of approximately $30/dose. Vaccination offers protection equal to two vials of antivenin, which runs several hundred dollars per vial.


If I Roll On the Bed and No One’s There, Am I Still Bad?

Finally, while some dogs are brave and resilient, we’ve all known a few that are crafty and disobedient, like this sly pit bull who thinks the coast is clear when his owner leaves the house. Why is it that forbidden fruit is always the sweetest? (watch the video)


Thanks to The Week (April 22, 2016) for highlighting Lucca, a U.S. Marine dog that was awarded the Dickin Medal, Britain’s top honor for military animals. A retired explosives dog that uncovered more than completed 400 patrols and uncovered dozens of explosive and insurgents, the German shepherd retired in 2012 after she lost a leg to an IED.0422_NAB.jpg

War hero ‘Lucca’

As our loyal followers know, we’re huge advocates of adopting rescue dogs and cats. After all, if mom and dad hadn’t stepped up for me, who knows where (or even if) I’d be living right now. If that isn’t enough to send you running to your local shelter, The Humane Society of the United States offers some additional food for thought. According to their numbers, between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats (most of them family pets surrendered because of “moving” or “landlord problems”) end up in our nation’s shelters each year. Of that staggering number, only half will not be adopted. When you factor in vaccinations, spay and neutering, and microchipping, the cost adopting a dog or cat from a shelter or rescue agency is typically less than for those purchased or gotten for free. If money doesn’t move you, then consider the latest study on Human-Pet bonding. According to a roundup article by Valerie Burke, MSN for greenmedinfo.com, bonding with pets offers a host of physical and emotional benefits, including better stress management, improved fitness levels, reduced risk for stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular ailments, pain relief from a host of chronic ailments, fewer allergies and a boost to the body’s immune system. For children, living with pets has been shown to reduce allergies and boost EQ – empathy and compassion – a key predictor of future academic success.

IMG_1538.jpgTanner sharing the love with our bro-in-law, Ernie, and nephew, Armand

  • Just because they’re good for you,and a great bargain doesn’t mean that every pet is right for every potential adopter. As we note in GIMME SHELTER, before you head out to the shelter, it might be wise to do some homework and take a personal financial and emotional inventory to assess your needs and abilities.
  • Ask yourself what you want/need in a dog. Will the dog be your constant companion? Will it have to co-exist with young children? With other dogs or cats? Does your apartment, condo or co-op board have any size or breed restrictions?
  • Spend some time researching the breed you are considering. Learn what it was bred for and the breed’s general temperament. If you live in a small apartment and aren’t big on outdoor exercise, you might want to avoid a dog that was bred for running. If you are away at work during the day and the dog will be indoors, you might want to consider a low-energy dog. A good resource is The ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs. The more knowledge you have, the better your chances for a successful pairing.
  • Decide how much time and energy you are willing to devote to the dog. Many people overestimate both. As a result, the dog gets shortchanged on exercise and affection, or becomes a burden to the owners, making a failed adoption more likely. Puppies and young dogs generally require more time and patience than older ones.
  • Include all family members in the selection of the dog. Bringing home a new dog can be chaotic in the best of circumstances. Defining each member’s responsibilities before adoption will help lessen the chaos. Young children may be too physically aggressive for very young puppies or fragile toy breeds. A dog that growls, cowers, raises its hackles, runs from your children, or that is reluctant to be petted is probably not a good choice for families with children.
  • Spend at least one hour getting to know the dog you are considering. Barring unforeseen events, this animal will be a member of your family for 12 or more years.
  • Find a local veterinarian and discuss canine nutrition and healthcare needs such a checkups and vaccinations. Medical emergencies can be expensive, so you might want to inquire about pet insurance.


Much as it pains our humans, we dogs don’t live and die on your every whim. That’s why we’ll refuse to ‘come’ when asked to leave the dog park (our 30-minute respite from domestic incarceration), or refuse to ‘stay’ when neighborhood squirrels invade our turf. According to Cesar Millan, a key step in getting us to do your bidding is training us to look at you. “If you can get your dog to focus on you instead of everything else going on around him, it will be easier to communicate with him and teach him other commands — not to mention getting him to ignore that taunting squirrel, far-off bark, or daily visit from the mailman. In addition, that look is also helping to build your relationship with your dog.” To make that happen, he suggests the following approach: Choose a word or phrase to focus your dog. Sit or stand near your dog and hold a treat close to your eyes. Say your attention word and, when the dog looks at you, reward him with the treat. Later on, you should add in a hand signal to accompany the word. Once your dog get the hang of it, begin phasing out the treats but not the affection for completing the task. Like with many things, practice is the key to mastery but don’t tire your dog and never punish him for failing. 

You have my attention, now where’s my treat?

A few weeks back, we wrote about knowing when it’s time to say ‘goodbye’. In his recent newsletter, Cesar offers a practical guide to assessing your dog’s quality of life and how it might impact the decision to euthanize or not. Among the categories to consider are Hurt, Hunger, Hydration Hygiene, Happiness and Mobility. If your best friend scores very low in most or all of them, then it might be time to say goodbye. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian. 

Connie & ‘Ava’

Our friend and rescue volunteer Connie Kruse recently contacted us about Ava, a 6-year old stray pit bull mix from the Santa Barbara County (CA) shelter who she’s trying to place. Ava was a stray recently suffered a stoke, but managed to bounce back nearly all the way. She still needs medication to control her condition but she’s otherwise in good health. This pretty 90-lb. girl is playful and loving with people and
potty-trained. They are looking for a foster or an adopter  who can love and care for her. If you are interested or know anyone who is, please contact STACY SILVA (stacy.silva@sbcphd.org) or call Connie Kruse at 805-878-8017. And please share this with your contacts. You stepped up big-time for Rex last year (3 tries before he found his forever home). Now we need to save Ava. It takes a village to save a dog!