PILOTS HELPING PUPS…’DANGEROUS’ DOGS…PEPPERDINE PRODIGIES

The April 24, 2015 issue of The Week  highlights two animal rescue organizations – Pilots N Paws  and Wings Of Rescue – where volunteer fliers are helping shelter dogs and cats avoid the threat of euthanasia by ferrying them from badly crowded urban shelters, where they stand little chance of being rescued, to less burdened areas where they are often quickly adopted. If you have some loose coin burning a hole in your pocket, maybe think about giving them a few shekels to keep up the great work. “More than 4 million pets are euthanized in the U.S. every year, mostly because of overcrowding in shelters. But a growing number of kindhearted pilots have been donating their time, fuel, and aircraft to transporting unwanted rescue dogs to less overburdened shelters, where many of them are quickly adopted. Groups like Wings of Rescue and Pilots N Paws have helped tens of thousands of strays find new homes over the past several years, and the number of volunteer aviators continues to rise. “We get a lot of the glory,” said pilot Angela Garcia. “But in reality, it’s just pure fun.”

Guardian angel with his rescue pups

Since mid-Janaury, Eugenie, Tanner and I have been working with Advertising students at Pepperdine University to design a new campaign for our favorite dog memoir, GIMME SHELTER. The three awesome teams delivered their final pitches last week and we were blown away by the depth and breadth of their creative genius. They covered everything from redesigning the book cover and business cards, to implementing exciting digital, mobil and social media strategies, leaving us with the unenviable task of choosing a ‘winner’. We’ll keep you posted on when, where and how we’ll be rolling out their ideas. A huge thanks to all 19 students, and their amazing professor, Dr. Ginger Rosenkrans, for an unforgettable experience.

Tanner kicking it at a Pepperdine photo shoot

In this week’s issue of his Cesar’s Way Newsletter, dog guru Cesar Millan focuses on ‘dangerous’ dogs and BSL – Breed Specific Legislation. Although it’s discriminatory, and proven not to work, some elected official and communities still advocate banning breeds like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Mastiffs and other ‘bad’ dogs to keep their citizens from being slaughtered. As Cesar points out, you are 650 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than to be killed by a dog attack. If safety concerns are the issue, then maybe BSL supporters should also consider turning in their driver’s license, draining their swimming pools and lobbying  stringent gun control laws. From Gimme Shelter, here are some odds on the chance of being killed by a Pit Bull:  

–       According to CDC studies, about 10 persons die each year as a result of dog attacks. Of that number, Pit Bulls are responsible for approximately 28% or 2.8 deaths.
–       In 2008, the Consumer Products Safety Commission reported 7 deaths from fireworks. Based on that number, you are two times more likely to die from a fireworks mishap than from a Pit Bull attack.
–       Approximately 10 people a year die from snakebites, 3 times the number killed by Pit Bulls.
–       From 1990-2003, 756 Americans (an average of 58/year) died from lightning strikes. That means you are more than 20 times more likely to be killed by lightening than by a Pit Bull.
–       CDC statistics show that every day 10 people die from drowning, the second leading cause of non-intentional death for people ages 1-14. A person is 1,300 times more likely to drown than to be killed by a Pit Bull.
–       Every year in the U.S. more than 1,700 children (roughly 5 each day) are killed by their parents or guardians, either through abuse or neglect. A child is more than 600 times more likely to be killed by their caretaker than by a Pit Bull.
–       For every Pit Bull that kills, there are MILLIONS that DON’T!

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REMEMBERING ‘TONY’ AND ‘CEBA’…SAVING ‘REX’

The sun is shining, and the mockingbirds are warbling but it’s a sad day for me and my parents. We awoke to news that our friend, the amazing dog trainer and Malibu fixture, Tony Rollins, had passed away due to complications from diabetes. A popular cable network likes to boast, ‘Characters Welcome’. Well, Tony was a character with character, a loving, patient guy who overcame his tough Brooklyn childhood and some early scrapes with the law to build a devoted following working with dogs, and their equally unruly, neurotic humans, at Bluffs Park obedience classes. Fans of GIMME SHELTER might recall how he ‘coaxed’ me into following the rules and helped bring my relationship with mom and dad to a new level of trust and commitment. In time some new trainer will come along and fill the vacancy left by our friend. But for us, Tony will always be ‘the man’ and the Bluffs his place. RIP Tony. 

Tony Rollins

In Hamlet, Shakespeare writes “When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.” That was the case today. We no sooner heard about Tony when Lou received an email saying that my longtime pal, and all-round fabulous dog, Ceba, had moved on to the big dog park in the sky. Ceba was a tiny Shih Tzu but he had the heart of a lion, the rollicking good nature of an Irish bartender, and a sweet loving souL that no dog, or human, could resist. I met him when I first came to live with Lou & Eugenie. I love dogs, and I didn’t think twice about lunging to greet Ceba. But Lou and Ceba’s dad, Doug, saw it a tad differently ; “Watching Tanner drag me across the road, Doug was wary of greeting the new stud. Ceba wasn’t. He held his ground and sniffed Tanner from stem-to-stern. Having made his point, he hoisted his tail and led us down the sidewalk, pimp-rolling like a 4-legged gangsta, posse in tow. Whenever Ceba stopped to mark the bushes, Tanner followed suit. It was their version of social networking, where dogs friend each other by peeing on walls instead of writing on them.” (from GIMME SHELTER) For the past few months, Ceba, Doug and Jean have been living in San Jose so I didn’t get to say a proper ‘goodbye’. I guess I’ll take a quiet moment and toast him with a few extra treats – Lou always had a goodie for the little guy – and then go out and mark some bushes in his honor. 

CEBA

Lou says ‘never end on a negative’ and I’m going to follow his advice and urge all of our friends and followers to help us do just that and find a home for REX, an amazing pit bull who’s been marking time in the Santa Maria animal shelter for nearly 16 months! We’ve posted about him before and two potential adopters stepped up, only to run into snags with landlords that refused to let them shelter a pit bull. I know what it’s like to live behind bars and, while it’s better than scuffling along on the street, it’s no substitute for a loving family. So…let’s get back to work, spread the word, and get this boy a home. Now. 

REX

Rex is about 3 1/2 years, weighs between 55-60 lbs. He is potty trained and leash trained, gets along extremely well with other dogs but we’re not sure about cats. He loves his toys so he’d be okay as an only dog as long as he gets some love and play time. He was a loved domestic pet who slept in the bed was used to help assess & train other shelter dogs’ temperaments. If you know anyone who would love to share their life with this bundle of love, please contact CONNIE KRUSE, 805-878-801,  clkjmw@icloud.com. If not, please pass this to your contacts and/or post on your social media.

MAN SAVES DOGS…DOGS FOR THE DEAF…SADDLE UP, LINDA & JOE

Facing a liver transplant and feeling suicidal, 28-year-old former alcoholic Zach Skow credits his dogs with helping him find sobriety and turn his life around. As payback, Skow founded a charity – Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue – to help save unwanted dogs. (Parade Magazine, February 8, 2015). 

Zack Skow and his dogs

We all know about Seeing Eye Dogs, but Dogs For The Deaf? Founded in 1977 by longtime Hollywood animal trainer Roy G. Kabat, DFD takes dogs from Western shelters and trains them to act as ‘ears’ for humans with deafness, hearing loss or autism. Since it’s inception, DFD has placed 3,000 rescue dogs in homes across the nation. 

Tanner and ‘Mom’ in San Luis Obispo

I was getting ready to teach my weekly Okinawan karate class last week when a dojo brother congratulated me on a Malibu Times Magazine piece about GIMME SHELTER. It was news to me but, sure enough, MTM had included the book as part of their local writers roundup (page. 23). After almost two years, I’m still amazed, and grateful, for all the kind attention the book has garnered. 

I met Joe Simone and Linda Bianco during my freshman year at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. Through our love of literature, movies, Italian food and each other, we became fast friends and spent the next four years hanging out in The City, cramming Shakespeare and doing what college kids did in the Woodstock era. (I won’t speak for them but I DID NOT inhale…at least not much) After graduation, Joe married the fair Linda and they spent the next 35+years living and working in NYC or nearby Westchester County. But all that’s about to change. My diehard New Yawker pals are pulling up stakes and heading to, gasp, San Antonio to be near son Justin and his wife, Nicole. Although I don’t get back East often these days, it will be strange when I do and they’re not there to share a plate of sushi or a glass of pinot grigio. Guess I’ll have to don my boots and a Stetson, trade the Prius for a pickup and mosey on down to Texas pay my pardners a visit in their new digs.

A SLO RECOVERY FOR AN EYE WIDE SHUT and "HOW THEY MET"

You’ve heard the expression that some stroke of moderate good luck is “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”? Well I can vouch that it’s true. Almost two weeks ago, I was romping with my friends Porter and Lola in their yard when I ran into the branch of a bush. It hurt a little – we pit bulls don’t cry uncle easily – but I figured mom and dad would fix it right up. They couldn’t and so we turned to Dr. Lisa and our pals at Malibu Coast Animal Hospital who said that I’d injured my cornea in four places, one of which looked nasty. They sent us home with eye drops, ugh, and orders to stay calm, which meant no dog park, or play dates, and wearing the dreaded “Cone of Shame”. I’m on the mend now but still looking like I forgot to slip a Mike Tyson hook. Hopefully Dr. Lisa will give us the ‘all clear’ on Thursday and then I can get back to my normal jovial mayhem. 

with my pal Charlie D before the ‘incident’

Even though they’re worried about my eye, mom and dad still took me on a delayed Valentine weekend getaway to San Luis Obispo. As usual, they went shopping and tried the local restaurants, like Firestone’s (BBQ) and the Big Sky Cafe.  For me, the highlight was a new toy duck, and getting to share dad’s bed, something that happens at home only when the Santa Ana winds come roaring. While I love cuddling with my grumpy doggie daddy, I was thrilled to get home to my own bed and my toys. Speaking of delayed Valentine’s business, I thought I’d pull a fast one and post the entry mom sent to the local paper’s  “How We Met” contest. She didn’t win, but yours truly thinks she should have. Give it a look, and see if you don’t agree. Regardless, I’m sure glad they got together or who knows where I’d be living right now. – From the time I was 17, I knew the man I was supposed to marry was somewhere in New York. But first I had to get there.  After college, I left L.A. and headed to the Big Apple. ” Do what you love and you’ll meet the man of your dreams.”  For two years I followed my mother’s mantra and kept my eyes peeled at museums, and during lunchtime workouts at Jack LaLanne’s gym on Madison Avenue. Then one afternoon, HE walked into the club. Red sweatpants, black hair, devilish Italian smile – my whole being screamed that ‘Lou’ was the one. We were introduced by my best friend, Debbie. For the next 3 months, I played it cool, interviewing him while we ran on the treadmills. Then one day, he was gone. When two weeks passed and he didn’t show, I became concerned and called. He said his father had passed away and he was helping his family in New Jersey but would return soon. No more playing it cool. I’d tipped my hand; he knew that I was interested in him. When he returned to the City, he took me to a Halloween costume party. Five years later, we eloped and were married at Juliet’s Tomb, in Verona, Italy. We left New York and moved to Malibu, our home now for 24 years. After three decades, our time together keeps getting better.  Maybe it’s because he was born on Valentine’s Day? Or maybe my mother was right. 

Mom & Dad on their 2nd date (don’t ask)

Finally, here’s a shout out to this year’s Westminster Dog Show winner, a spry little Beagle named Miss P. As Beagles go, she’s pretty hot but I’m still longing for the day when an American Staffordshire Terrier or our English cousin, the Staffie, takes the big blue ribbon.

Miss P, 2015 Best In Show

BIG $ FOR VALENTINE’S DAY…AWARDS SEASON…BACK TO SCHOOL

According to a blurb in The Week magazine (Feb. 6, 2015) the National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $700 million on Valentine’s Day gifts…for their pets. Speaking of gifts, if you’re having a tough time shopping for that special dog lover in your life, consider a book.

@ Amazon.com

While the Dog Writer’s Association of American writing awards are still two weeks off, the Malibu Times ran a nice piece on yours truly, and our dear friend Megan Blake, who are  nominated in the online article and radio show categories. Megan, who hosts the awesome A Super Smiley Adventure on PetLife Radio, interviewed us when Gimme Shelter first debuted. Eugenie, Tanner and I plan to celebrate the DWAA event with her, husband Kim, and her pups, Super Smiley and Angel. 

This past Tuesday, Eugenie and I met with Pepperdine University Professor Ginger Rosenkrans’ senior marketing class to field questions from the student teams that will be designing a comprehensive marketing campaign for GIMME SHELTER as their class project. The class was so enthusiastic and insightful! We can’t wait to see what they devise for us. The only tough moment came when one student asked what kind of cell phone I have. Red-faced, I mumbled that I still use a pay-as-you-go flip phone. The students looked away in pity for this out of step tech dinosaur. 

Lou with the Pepperdine University marketing students

A few weeks back, an L.A. Times article by Abby Sewell reported that L.A. County Supervisors are considering upgrading the county’s 6 outdated animal shelters. Here’s hoping they follow through and make life more bearable for the tens of thousands of dogs and cats they house each year. According to the story, 50 % are eventually euthanized, 43 % are adopted, and  only 8% are reunited with their owners. 

former shelter dog Tanner with his best pal, Charlie, and Lou

SAMURAI PIT BULL NOW A ‘GAEL’…THE MAGNIFICENT 7

2015 started in fine Pit Bull fashion when Lou & Eugenie went to LACMA to see the fascinating ‘Samurai’ exhibit which features some amazing sets of Samurai armor, horse gear, bows, swords and other items from the 13th to the 19th century. After spending the day running errands, they arrived about an hour before closing. They wavered about paying $50 for 2 tickets but dad said ‘What the heck” and handed over our Capital One card, the one with a photo of the three of us. “Is that a pit bull?”, the museum clerk asked. They said “yes” and she promptly gave them a free admission, which was doubled when they added that I was a rescue. They loved the exhibit, but it was impossible to top the loving gesture. 

As many of you know, mom and I are California born and bred but dad hails from the East Coast, specifically the New York-New Jersey metro area where he spent the first 40 years. During that time, he had the good fortune to attend Iona College (New Rochelle, NY) where he received a first rate education in liberal arts. This past week, we learned that the Iona College Magazine featured GIMME SHELTER in the ‘Shelf Life’ section of the Winter Edition. Thanks to Lizzie Faia and the staff for showing a grateful Gael alum some love. 

In the ‘How Great Is This’ department, the holidays saw a canine miracle in Susanville, CA, where 7 newborn pups were left to die in a dumpster. According to a story in the L.A. Times , when a good samaritan notified the authorities, the Lassen County animal control office and some bog-hearted rescue volunteers from Pet Network Humane Society in Incline Village, Nevada, stepped up to nurse the throwaway babies. Thanks to their know-how and round-the-clock efforts, they all survived and were promptly adopted.

The Magnificent Seven

CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY…HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS

Eugenie and I received a wonderful Christmas gift yesterday when Dr. Dean Graulich called to say that Tanner’s tumor was a low-grade malignancy that shouldn’t pose any future problems. Our brave boy has a gang of stitches on his chest but the bandages are gone and he’s down to just an 80s-style midriff (midruff?) T-shirt to keep him from clawing open the stitches. We’re glad to be done with his post-op meds but he’s not as happy since we camouflaged each pill with a mound of ground beef.

‘Buona Festa’ to our 2 and 4-legged friends
(Tanner flew to Italy via photoshop)


If you’re looking for a nice, inexpensive gift for that special animal lover in your life, take advantage of the GIMME SHELTER 20% holiday discount, now through January 1, 2015. Tanner thinks it’s great idea and he’s not alone; over three dozen Amazon readers have given us an average 5-star rating. If that doesn’t move you, maybe this video from last years Diesel Bookstore event will serve to whet your appetite. 

If books aren’t the answer, you might consider sculpture, specifically Eugenie’s awesome stone carvings. She currently has work on display at the CANVAS women’s store in Malibu, and at Studio Five08 in Santa Monica. You can view the latest sculptures and new at eugeniespirito.com.

‘White Angel’ @ Canvas

ITALY – SOME LAST THOUGHTS

Mantova, as seen from the lake boat

Last month’s trip marked our 7th visit to Italy since we were married there in Verona in 1988. The pictures speak for themselves but here are a few casual, decidedly unscientific observations from our travels: 1) Italians love their dogs and take them everywhere, even to grocery stores, restaurants and cafes. 2) Along with dogs and children, they cherish artists as gifted, special beings whose work elevates us from the base grasping of the marketplace. 3) Like Americans, Italians have adopted technology, especially smart phones. Yet they seem to spend less time online that most of us, and more time actually talking, which makes sense, given their generally garrulous nature. 4) As a writer, I was happy to see that Italy still has lots of book stores. For them, Kindles and iPads haven’t replaced real paper books – yet. 

outside the Duomo, Modena

5) As with phones and tablets, there are also more fast food restaurants, particularly McDonalds. In what could be a related issue, the natives seem to be getting heavier. Not grossly overweight like too many Americans, just a little paunchier than we remembered. 6) The old church based standards of ‘proper’ behavior are on the wane if not dead; kids dressing less modestly, the girls showing more skin and the boys affecting a ‘gangsta’ look, albeit with droopy, tight, skinny jeans! In several towns we saw young couples making out on the cathedral steps. In years past, such brazen public displays would have garnered a stern ‘disgraziato!’ from the elderly, black clad  ‘signore’. No more.7) Sadly, grafitti is on the rise in once pristine small towns like Brescia and Camogli where it’s not uncommon to find tagged-up walls and buildings. Guess the desire for ‘recognition’  at any cost is worldwide. 8) Along with burger joints and tagging, there are now more immigrants, too. While the beach towns held mostly Italians and tourists from the UK, France, Germany and the U.S., immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East now call cities like Bergamo, Brescia and Milan home. Having lived in NYC and L.A., two great ‘melting pots’, it seems normal to us. Not so much for the Italians, who grouse that joining the EU was ‘un disastro’. 

playing with my food in Marina Di Pietrasanta

On a personal note, while some people flock to Italy hoping to become more urbane,  sophisticated, and alluring (read Luigi Barzini’s 1964 classic The Italians), for me the opposite takes place. Instead of morphing into a suave, stylish casanova in the vein of Marcello Mastroianni, I channel Roberto Benigni. I trip on sidewalks, stumble over thresholds, spill soup and gelato on my shirt and slacks, drive down one-way streets, going the wrong way. I routinely ask directions to churches, hotels and museums – ‘Scusi, signore. Puo dire mi dov’e…’ while standing directly in front of the location, prompting WTF! stares and chuckles from the natives, who gape at me as if to say, “Poor thing, he looks normal but I guess he’s not quite right”. It’s humbling, but also great fun. 

lunch @ Trattoria Ermes, Modena

I wasn’t alone; Eugenie had her ‘aha!’ moment, too. For years, she told anyone who’d listen that her dream was to live in Italy, where ‘family’ and ‘connection’ still matter. During our sojourn, she suddenly realized that she already has those things here at home, where she’s surrounded by loving friends and relatives. While living in Italy would be fun for a while, without the anchor of work or family we’d just be ‘the American couple’  who stop by every morning for coffee and pastry,  strangers yearning to be ‘in it’, but never truly being ‘of it’. A great observation from a great trip. Ciao!

Camogli
Eugenie’s Italian sportscar

Abbey of San Frutuoso near Camogli

OF DOGS AND MEN

I don’t know how much longer Lou will let me keep posting so I thought I’d write about how we dogs usually avoid politics and stick to helping our 2-legged friends, no matter what their leanings.  Except when it comes to BSL, dog fighting and tainted treats, you’ll never catch us growling over partisan issues. That said, I wanted to mention the anniversary of 911 and what local students are doing to honor the memory of the people who died that day. For the past several years, students at nearby Pepperdine University (the water polo or volleyball players ?) have placed nearly 3,000 flags, from the victims’ respective nations, on the sweeping great lawn in memory of the dead. Lou and Eugenie took me there, and strolling through the impressive display flapping banners was a moving event. Lou said it reminded him of the simple crosses they place at Veteran’s cemeteries but I’ve never been so I’ll take his word for it. It will be up several more days so if you’re a local or passing by, be sure to stop and take it in.

Tanner, American Staffordshire Terrier on the Pepperdine University 9-11 Lawn

On a sunnier but related note, check out this video of a faithful pup being reunited with his soldier ‘dad’ who has just returned from a 6-month absence in combat. If this doesn’t make you smile, go see the undertaker, cause you just might be dead.

How many people would do this for a friend?
OM! Tanner and Eugenie getting mellow @ The Sacred Space, Summerland, CA

Lou with Tanner and his pal, Magnus, aka Mag-A-Noos @ Trancas Dogpark

RACING (raging?) IN THE RAIN

This past Monday, Eugenie and I had the honor of attending a book signing and Q & A by Garth Stein, author of the wildly popular “The Art of Racing In The Rain“.  – Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.”

Stein’s appearance marked the first in the initial season of the Malibu Library’s ‘author events’ and it was terrific. He read from his wonderful novel, told personal anecdotes related to the creation and publication of the book including how his then-agent told him that no one would ever read a book narrated by a dog and that no one would ever be able to sell or publish it. He didn’t gloat but then again he didn’t have to, since the book has garnered all sorts of praise, spent 150+weeks on the ‘best seller’ list, earned a gazillion dollars and is now being made into a major film by Universal Studios. He was charming, funny, serious, insightful – in short, it was the author as performance artist par excellence.  With my first two author ‘events’ fast approaching (details to follow shortly), this newbie was taking serious notes. I couldn’t help thinking that, unlike Garth’s racer hero, Denny, my issue is raging in the rain, the sun, the snow, the fog or just about any condition you can think of. If you’re wondering what I’m rambling about, you need to get a copy of GIMME SHELTER.  And while you’re buying books, if you’ve never read Stein’s gem, get it. And you tough guys, be sure to buy a box of Kleenex, too, because you’ll need it. 

Garth Stein signs ‘Racing’ for Lou and pal Robby Mazza, foreground