DOGS IN THE PEN…MORE ON MOURNING

For the past two weeks Lou has been too busy with his Probation kids to post my observations. I heard him telling ‘mom’ (Eugenie) that he had them working on topics as diverse as personal investing, dharma in prison and Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development. Phew! Now that he’s finally taking a breather, I wanted to pass along some very heartening news about canines helping humans the way I helped him. Ruth Levine, President and Founder of Karma Rescue, recently shared the following: 

“The Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) approached Karma Rescue with a unique opportunity: could we help them develop a training program inside one of our state prisons that would pair inmates with rescued shelter dogs? While similar programs have been instituted across the nation, Paws For Life is California’s first and only program in a high-security prison involving inmates serving life-term sentences. 


Paws For Life brings rescued shelter dogs to live full-time with inmates at the Los Angeles County CDCR. Over a twelve-week cycle, inmates will learn from Karma trainers how to train our rescue dogs for ‘Canine Good Citizen’ certification. Once a dog earns this designation, the chance for successful adoption increases — as does our ability to rescue another shelter animal in its place. The inmates also benefit: beyond the rehabilitative therapy of a dog’s presence, they are learning “real world” skills and connecting to a larger a humanitarian process outside of the prison walls. This program gives them a way to contribute back to society by helping a dog get a second chance at life. On June 1, we brought five shelter dogs to the prison. Men who had not seen an animal in decades were openly emotional at the sight of the beautiful creatures before them. Just petting our dogs brought many to happy tears. It was a day I will never, ever forget.”

If you’d like to support the project, you can donate on the Karma website.


To follow up on our last post about whether dogs grieve like their human companions, Cesar Millan tackles the subject in his latest newsletter. According to the dog guru, they miss their deceased pack buddies like people miss their dearly departed pals and family. Thankfully, the majority of grieving pups eventually return to their former, joyful selves.

Tanner mourning his eviscerated ‘babies’

  
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$$ FOR MUTTS, PASTA-EATING DOGS & OTHER NEWS

Between book events, working at Probation and workouts, things get hectic around our place. Maybe that’s why we’ve neglected to mention that the Gimme Shelter Campaign recently made our 2nd and 3rd official donations to the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation and the St. Martin’s Animal Foundation. For new visitors, we’ve promised to donate 10% of the profits from GIMME SHELTER to various animal rescue groups. We’re at 3 and counting, so keep buying books and we’ll keep sharing the proceeds.

Pit-Lab pups being fostered by Sky Valencia of St. Martin’s Animals Foundation.
Interested? Contact: skyvalencia99@gmail.com

                                                                        ~~~~~ 
With all of those cute kitty YouTube videos, it’s tough to keep current on dog news so here are two stories that might be of interest.
– An L.A. Times‘ piece from June 22 detailed the protests by China animals lovers upset with mistreatment of stranded dolphins and the traditional Yulin dog meat festival. In a country not noted for its human rights concerns, it’s heartening to hear that people are willing to speak up about perceived animal cruelty.
– The April issue of Scientific American ran a piece by Kate Wong outlining scientists’ theories that adaptation to humans starchy diet may have lead to the domestication of dogs and cats. I love Tanner but he is NOT getting my pizza!

ANOTHER SMALL STEP

Those of you familiar with Tanner’s story will remember that, when he first left the shelter, he was one very skittish pup.  A scuffed shoe or a dropped plate would send him flying.  Thanks to Eugenie’s constant affection (she never took her hands off him) and my concerted efforts to reform my foul temper, he finally began to relax.  First, we were able to coax him up onto the sofa for TV cuddles.  Then, he learned to stretch out on our bed when invited.  Of course, he stayed in the middle, close enough to let us touch him but far enough away to avoid us when he chose.  Just recently, though, that’s begun to change.  When we’re watching movies in bed (been enjoying Ric Burns epic documentary New York) he been allowing Eugenie to drape her legs across his body.  And the other night, he curled up in my lap!  I’d been busy working at probation and doing a hurry-up rewrite on my play so we think it was his way of saying that he missed me.  Regardless, it was awesome to see him acting like the beloved family dog that he is. 

We’ll see how he handles the fireworks and firecrackers this week.  Even if he freaks, we’ll be there to buck him up. 

note:  Since I penned the ‘June Gloom’ headline, we’ve had most blue, sunny skies.  Maybe my public kvetching moved the weather gods.  Either that or we’ve been lucky for a change.  

JUNE GLOOM (AWOL From The Dog Park)

Dudley and Blanche

Ever since his 4-year anniversary, Tanner and his humans have been busy with a host of projects, including finding a home for GIMME SHELTER. The journey continues and we hope to have an agent in place by Eugenie’s birthday (June 21). In addition to tweaking the book, crafting a proposal and starting a rewrite on my play, “All That He Could Be” (the true story of the only solider to successfully challenge the ban on gays in the U.S. Military – a black drag queen!),  I’ve been I’ve been teaching at Probation and Eugenie has been carving like a mad woman. She’s submitting to several galleries and competitions and applying for grants as well.  On top of that, we took a quick trip to Palm Springs to visit Eugenie’s mom, for Mother’s Day. It was 100+ and Melissa’s AC was out!  Thankfully, our friends Toni, Ron and Alana let us stay at their place in Palm Desert. Tanner dislikes the heat and long drives but he bore up surprisingly well.  On a sad note, Melissa’s beloved Pug, Dudley passed away recently, a few months shy of his 15th b-day. Dud was a funny, mischievous little imp who trained his owner to do his bidding. For most of his life, he spent the summers with us when things got too warm in the Desert, so we’ll miss him terribly, too.


‘Make-Up’ cuddles

In addition to work and travel, we’ve been fixing up the house in anticipation of our niece Margaret’s wedding two months from now, when all of the Spirito famiglia will descend on SoCal, many for their first visit since we moved here in 1991. We can’t have them thinking we live in a slum, albeit one with palm trees and an ocean view (if you stand on your toes in the upstairs loft). Like his grumpy ‘father (and our late cat, Blanche) Tanner HATES changes to his environment or routine. Sprucing up the master bath fits that label, and he’s been on edge the entire time.  It doesn’t help that we’ve been AWOL at the dog park lately so Poor Tanner has had to make do with local play dates, extra treats and cuddles in bed.


As it too often does, the ‘June Gloom’ has settled in bringing overcast skies and chilly (by California standards) temperatures. Tanner likes it cool but not foggy, and he detests the rain. I like it warm and sunny, so I’m bummed. 
                                                                                               ~  ~  ~
“Our first year here it rained all spring and the lousy weather lasted well into fall.  Like a kid who’d been promised a trip to Disneyland but forced to settle for a T-shirt, I felt gypped. And ill. Before we quit New York, Eugenie’s mom graciously supervised the fix-up on our Malibu rental. Under her decorator’s eye, the place was painted top to bottom, the floors and furniture refinished, and new carpeting installed. The work took all of February.  During that time it rained so fiercely that she kept the doors and windows shut tight, allowing the petrochemical fumes to reach critical mass. When we boarded the plane that would take us to the Left Coast, we had no idea that we’d be moving into a toxic time bomb. Shortly after we arrived my head began to pound. I was green, listless, and in constant agony.  I tried aspirin, massage, and meditation. Nothing could blunt the pain. Either I was dying, or I was allergic to California. I agreed to give it one more week; then I was flying back to New York where I’d stay until I recovered. In desperation, Eugenie took me to see a homeopath who diagnosed me with chemical poisoning. I scoffed, but I took the little sugar pills and the headaches went away.” (from “Gimme Shelter: A Damaged Pit Bull, an Angry Man and How They Saved Each Other”).
                                                                                              ~  ~  ~
Right now Tanner is crashed out on his bed, taking advantage of a lull in the hammering and sawing to catch up on his sleep. He’d better since we’re off to Fashion Island in Costa Mesa tomorrow to visit with Eugenie’s godfather, Gene, and his wife, Jennifer. There will be tons of Yorkies, Shih Tzus  and other pocket pooches at the mall so Tanner will makes lots of new ‘friends’ and probably scare a few uptight O.C. residents.

RESCUE DOG…RESCUE KIDS

Tanner and I apologize from the recent inactivity but I’ve been busy with a different kind of ‘rescue’ program.  

Back around the time Tanner came to stay with us, I started thinking that I might want to combine my two very different skill sets, writing and martial arts, to help ‘at risk’ kids.  I wasn’t sure if I still had the patience and energy required so I decided to take a trial run, substitute teaching at the L.A. County Juvenile Probation schools here in Malibu.  It took several months to get my certification and paperwork in order (back in the last century, I taught English before leaving to become an actor).  There were tests to take, forms to complete, interviews, orientations, fingerprinting – you would have thought I was applying for CIA clearance.  

After all the hoopla, I started in March, right around the time we started looking for a rescue dog three years earlier. The first couple days were interesting.  The ‘kids’ – all juvie offenders who’ve committed assorted crimes, some serious, some minor – felt they had to test me, just like we did with high school subs.  Nothing personal.  They were high energy and noisy but I never felt threatened.  Now that they’ve gotten to know me, and I them, I’m enjoying our time together.  Just like shelter dogs (I love dogs so this is a compliment), many of them are desperate for genuine affection and interest, and any special perks, like candy or magazines, they think they can wheedle out of you.

I’m not sure I’m up for a full-time job (45 kids of varying abilities and backgrounds, working on 6-7 subjects!) but I’m thinking of proposing an after school Tai Chi program.  I’ve also spoken to our good friend and superb dog trainer Tony Rollins, about starting a program where they can help train shelter dogs for adoption.  

In the middle of all this, I was busy reworking GIMME Shelter for submission to agents.  Now that the manuscript is done (for the moment), I’ll be back blogging and devoting myself to Tanner, who just celebrated his 3rd ‘anniversary’ with us.  He recently had a systemic bacterial infection that was causing skin rashes and lethargy but Dr. Lisa gave us a prescription and some ointment and now the big guy’s fine and friskier than ever.

Tanner on the Colony Beach