‘THE ROCKETS RED GLARE’…PIT BULL MELTDOWN & LOVE FROM THE U.K.

Even though we’re on the wrong side of the tracks (in this case, Pacific Coast Highway), every July 4th we get to watch the Paradise Cove pyrotechnics from our balcony. It’s  huge treat for us humans but not much fun the neighborhood dogs. As he’s done for the past 5 years, poor Tanner spent several hours shivering like a North Pole skinny dipper while searching in vain for a place to escape the skyrockets and firecrackers. Four days later, he’s still not back to his normal, easy-going self.

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While Independence Day celebrates America’s breakup with England, this year the holiday brought us some love from the U.K. in the form of a glowing review of GIMME SHELTER courtesy of Emma Powell and The Review Group. Here’s hoping that her kind words lead U.K. dog lovers to rush out and buy a copy. From the review: “You don’t have to be a dog lover to appreciate this book. I was happy to review it as I have always had German Shepherds, my latest one a rescue with problems, so can empathise with judgemental attitudes that surround certain breeds. But this book is so much more than dogs; it’s a person’s story of how he developed coping mechanisms, life-changing attitudes and how hard it is to work at changing lifestyles.  By having to work with a dog that had issues, such as fearing everything, surrounded by people with preconceived ideas of the dog, the author cleverly shows how this path forced him to take his own issues to hand. The author is very honest and open that he has anger problems stemming from childhood and through his 20s and I think this is a very difficult and brave thing to do. “
Tanner…American Staffordshire Terrier & Yankee Doodle Dandy
If they’re anything like their Yankee counterparts, they’ll likely enjoy the book’s sidebars that offer tips on training and dog care, as well as pertinent statistics about dog-human interactions, such as dog bites and how to prevent them. Cesar Millan’s latest newsletter puts the annual number of U.S. dog bites at 4.5 million, with 31 fatalities. On the surface, these numbers suggest that  man’s best friend is nothing of the sort. As Tanner will attest, it’s crucial for pet guardians to train and socialize their dogs and to safely restrain them if they show aggression towards people or other animals. But before you muzzle Bowser or show him the door, consider that every day in the U.S. 4.5 children die from abuse and neglect and that the Center for Disease Control is predicting 33,000 gun fatalities for 2015.

DOGS vs. CATS – WHICH IS SMARTER? HINT…WOOF, WOOF!

I don’t often post on hot-button issues but this one was too good to pass up. While the canine-feline debate has raged for ages, as reported in the Huffington Post,  the latest scientific (as in trained experts with proven methods) findings suggests that we dogs have the edge when it comes to smarts. How can that be, when those clever kitty killing machines manage to manipulate their human companions seemingly at will? Turns out that social animals, like elephants, dolphins, monkeys and, yes, dogs, develop larger brains to better foster cooperation with each other and, in the case of dogs, their human pals. If you’re a cat lover don’t despair, there’s some good news, too. According to Joanna Liebmann-Smith, PhD, “Dogs usually do outperform cats on most animal IQ tests and have larger vocabularies and bigger brains, but…Cats have almost twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is considered the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, among other things. Cats have 300 million neurons, while dogs have only 160 million, which means that cats have a greater capacity for information processing than dogs.”

Tanner (right)   and his Mensa friend, Porter Massa

And before Lou and Eugenie start gloating, recent studies suggest that ‘Cat People’ (loved the flick with Natasha Kinski, and the Bowie tune) are smarter than dog lovers. An article from LiveScience by Rachel Rettner offered this comparison: “People who said they were dog lovers in the study tended to be more lively — meaning they were more energetic and outgoing — and also tended to follow rules closely. Cat lovers, on the other hand, were more introverted, more open-minded and more sensitive than dog lovers. Cat people also tended to be non-conformists, preferring to be expedient rather than follow the rules.” Now that I have both sides riled (a trick I learned from Lou), let me suggest a compromise by paraphrasing Crosby, Still & Nash: If you can’t be with the pet species you love, love the one you’re with!”

Porter with his very smart and outgoing mom, Robby


GONE TOO SOON

Unless you’re a middle-aged human with a very young parrot, the odds say that you will outlive your non-human ‘baby’. Their too-short life span can be heart-breaking, but it’s also what makes sharing our lives with pets so poignant. In recent months, several friends have had to face this bittersweet reality: Jenniene, who lost her beloved Poodle, Stella, and her bird, Hymmie; Rob and Diane, who lost their canine boys Griffin and Sonny; and Craig,who just lost his best pal, Bud, an amazing Visla-mix. Almost anyone who’s lost a treasured pet will tell you that the grief we feel at their passing is genuine, and sometimes greater, than when our human friends depart. But do our pets mourn for us, or for each other? We’ve all heard stories of incredible canine feelings, but perhaps none tops that of  the Japanese Akita, Hachiko (made famous in the movie Hachiko, A Dog’s Story). Following his owner’s sudden death in 1925, Hachiko returned to the train station, where he used to welcome him home, every day for next ten years. 

Hachiko, circa 1925

In the opening chapter of GIMME SHELTER, we recount how, when we lost our Irish Setter, Rebel, we were so devastated that it took a year before we’d recovered enough to retrieve his ashes from the vet’s office. At the time, we doubted that his doggie sister, Roxanne, aka ‘The Dalmatian From Hell’, would even notice his absence. After all, her waking hours had seemed devoted to stealing his toys, usurping his place on the sofa, and making his life miserable. We were wrong. The day Reb passed, her usually perky tail hung straight down, like an antenna that had snapped in the wind. Her normally ravenous appetite was gone, and her non-stop barking muted. She carried on this way for several weeks before eventually returning to her terrible self. In an earlier post, we mentioned the work of neuroscientist Gregory Burns which makes the case that “Dogs Are People, Too‘. Now dog guru Cesar Millan offers some insights in Dogs Mourning Humans

Roxanne and Rebel with Eugenie & Lou in Madison Square Park, NYC 1990

THINGS I BLAME MY MOTHER FOR…

It’s been just over 14 years since my mother, Buzzy (nee Florence) shuffled off to Valhalla, in her case, a perpetual day at the races where the long shots (gray horses of course) always come out ahead, the trifectas pay out five figures,  and the beer is always frosty. To be honest, I don’t think of her much these days but I was sorting through my bookcase when I happened on a photo of us taken a few years before she slid away. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and it got me thinking about all the things I blame her for. 
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A child of the Great Depression whose fireman father died in the line of duty, she left home at fourteen when her mother’s new husband grew too “interested” in her and her younger sister. Armed with only a grade school education she talked her way into a waitress gig at New York’s then-swanky Hotel Pennsylvania. She used her meager wages to support them both, making “poor man’s eggs” (an egg stretched with corn starch and flavored with bacon grease, served with stale bread) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  When she married my father, a handsome, hotheaded restaurateur, she thought she’d found her fairy tale ending. For a short time they were deliriously happy. Then came four kids, and his passion shifted to gambling, and girlfriends. We lived with the “enemy”, my immigrant grandparents who blamed her for my father’s failings. Since her siblings were either struggling or dead, leaving was out of the question. Pinned down in domestic trench warfare, she still found time to teach me baseball and to instill in me her love books. No Winnie the Pooh in our house; I cut my teeth on Kidnapped and Perry Mason, which explains my fondness for Michael Connelly novels, and gritty crime dramas like Oz, The Shield, and Justified

Florence ‘Buzzy’ Spirito

She ran her house with an iron fist; clean dishes and made beds were mandatory, fast food unheard of. To this day, the only blemish on my record, a single Egg McMuffin consumed in a seriously altered state. If I’m a food snob, it’s all her fault. She taught her four kids to speak their minds, even if it meant upsetting the powers that be, like the time she challenged a school tuition hike by asking the stately Parish Monsignor how many “god damn kids” he was struggling to raise. And she taught me to fight, forcing me to  trade blows with the neighborhood bully while she refereed. I was terrified and she knew it but that didn’t matter. That I took up karate instead of golf, I lay on her. She took the holidays seriously, insisting that we scour the Sear’s Catalog before submitting our Christmas lists, and dressing like a swarthy Arab sheik or a crazed Buccaneer for her annual Halloween visit to our classrooms. Her home, a scant half-block from the schoolyard, was a haven for friends and classmates. Everyone was welcome with no exception and only one caveat: her house, her rules, which meant a smack on the ass if you got out of line. She made it her mission to mend torn pants, scraped elbows and broken hearts. She took in stray dogs, wounded birds, lost turtles and even a stolen monkey. She’s have loved Tanner.

Halloween 1953


When our grandparents banished us from the yard during sweltering NJ summers, she borrowed from strangers to rent a cottage on Barnegat Bay where we could swim and fish in safety. When I started playing basketball she never missed a game, even when if meant a 2-hour bus ride with a team of sweaty boys. We scuffled plenty – mostly over girls and her fear that I might ‘get them into trouble’ – but I loved her to bits and considered her a mentor and friend. By example she taught me to love and respect all women, especially my wife of 25 years, Eugenie, who she adored. After a stroke forced Buzzy (I called her an Old Buzzard and the shortened version stuck) into riding a wheelchair, we’d make a weekly pilgrimage from our Greenwich Village studio to  to give her a shower, a beauty treatment and game of gin rummy, or just to sit on her bed holding hands while she watched her favorite cop show. 

with Buzzy and ‘Victory’ circa 1952

GIMME SHELTER SHOULD BE ‘SEEN’, AND HEARD

I no sooner published my last post when Lou strolled in and announced that GIMME SHELTER had garnered yet another media mention, this time in the ‘Malibu Seen’ column of the Malibu Times. Writer Kim Devore crafted a cute Mother’s Day piece entitled “How I Met Your Mother” in which she revealed the chain of serendipitous events that brought our book to the attention of her mom, superstar decorator and philanthropist, Erika Brunson, who subsequently sponsored the donation of 100 copies of GS to the local probation camp schools where Lou works. A hearty ‘grazie’ to Kim, Erika and all the moms out there who keep the love flowing to man and beast.
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In our haste to mention this weekend’s No KIll LA mega-adoption, we forgot to report on last Sunday’s Woofstock, Malibu event. Hosted by actor and animal activist Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), and our dear friend, Pet Life radio hostess Megan Blake, it drew a sizable crowd who came to browse the vendors, sample the free munchies – human and canine – and groove to the sounds of great local bands. While the ostensible reason for the party was the grand reopening of the remodeled Malibu Coast Animal Hospital, where Tanner’s vet Dr. Lisa Newall hangs her shingle, we’re hoping it will become an annual soiree, a doggie Coachella by the sea.

Eugenie and Tanner with Megan Blake and ‘Super’ Smiley

HELP THE PEOPLE WHO SAVE OUR DOGS

As many of you know, Eugenie, Lou & I donate a portion of the proceeds from GIMME SHELTER to animal rescue groups. So many organizations do amazing work that we’d need another book to list them all. Instead, we’d like to give a well deserved shout out to some of our favs, like Karma Rescue, Downtown Dog Rescue, St. Martin’s Animal Foundation, Linda Blair’s Worldheart Foundation, Animals Advocates Alliance, Canine Adoption Rescue Leage (CARL) of Ventura, and Healthcare for Homeless Animals (formerly Malibu Pet Companions). If you have some spare Benjamins, they’d be happy to take them off your paws so that they can help more dogs like me, and Freckles, whose life was recently saved for a second time by the folks at Karma.

Freckles
In keeping with our rescue theme, if you live in the Los Angeles area and you’re thinking about a rescue dog, or cat, then be sure to check out the Best Friends/No Kill LA mega-adoption this weekend Saturday, May 3, and Sunday, May 4, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The popular event has a mission of turning L.A. into the nation’s largest No-Kill City by 2017, will feature more than 1,000 adoptable pets from 50 rescue groups.  “Last fall, the NKLA Adoption Weekend found homes for close to 400 dogs and cats in 48 hours and we hope to beat that number this spring,” said Marc Peralta, executive director of Best Friends Animal Society – Los Angeles. “Any Angeleno who is looking to adopt should check out the NKLA Adoption Weekend, as it’s the perfect venue to find your new best friend. You can even bring your dog along for a meet and greet.”

Eugenie and Tanner @ last year’s event

BLUE RIBBON WEARING, FUND RAISING ‘PET OF THE WEEK’

Saturday marked the end of a hurricane week for me, and my human companions. On Sunday, March 30, we strutted our stuff at the 12th Annual Avondale Charity Pet Show where they  broke their previous fundraising records, the proceeds going to The Pet Rescue Center in Coachella. A certain Pit Bull Johnson and his human Boswell sold copies of GIMME SHELTER while my ‘mom’ Eugenie, displayed her amazing stone sculptures. We met tons of great people and pets including Joan & Kathleen Hopp, Kathleen’s son, Colton, his pal, Connor, and a super fine petite hottie named Jenny, and Joan’s sleek, shy pit girl, Nikki. As a ‘Thank You’ for my part, the Avondale gang presented me with my first blue ribbon, which I’ll always treasure. 

A Blue Ribbon Day
E’s mom, Melissa with ‘Jenny’!

We’d barely returned from Palm Springs when Eugenie opened the Malibu Surfside News and shrieked, “Look who’s in the paper!” It was a picture of me as ‘Pet Of The Week’, curled up in my bed, the essence of a dignified yet lovable pit bull. Seems mom slipped it to the paper on the QT, the sweet little rat.

Saturday, April 4,  meant another long car trip, this time to Lemon Park in Simi Valley for their 4th Annual Bark For Life cancer fundraiser. It was a gorgeous day in a gorgeous spot where Lou & I reprised our roles as ‘Grand Marshals’, surrounded by gangs of dogs and humans all strolling to raise money for a noble cause. Kudos of organizer Laura Leonard (rescue mom for 3 dogs) and her legion of volunteers and sponsors. We have one more event left on the calendar – a cable TV interview. After that, I’m taking a break and demanding a raise in my ‘pay’ of chicken treats and squeaky toys. Either that, or Lou can dress up like a pit bull and do it all himself.

The ‘family’ @ Bark For Life

Lou & Tanner with Doug & his rescue Cane Corso, Sasha

MORE TO B.R.A.G. ABOUT…’A PLACE TO CALL HOME…AVONDALE PET SHOW: A FAMILY AFFAIR

Just a few weeks back, we were thrilled, and honored when GIMME SHELTER was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion for Non-fiction. Paula and the indieBRAG folks gave us glowing reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads, the internet’s largest book lovers group, along with shout-outs on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. What more could we want? How about an awesome author interview with Stephanie Moore Hopkins on her writers blog, Layered Pages. Thanks to her probing questions, Lou comes across like a real writer, who wrote a great book about a riveting subject – me!

When you have a second, give it a look.
Tanner on what used to be Lou’s side of the bed
If you like great books with dog heroes (and who doesn’t?), check out G.A. Whitmore’s new volume, A Place To Call Home, the moving story of a rescue dog named Toby, who suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous doggie fortune before finding his happy ending.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Lou and I have been invited as special guests to the 12th Annual Avondale Charity Pet Show in Palm Desert, CA on March 30 from 4:00 – 6:00. Thanks to sweet Joan Hopp, it’s now a family affair because Eugenie will be showing her sculptures while Lou hawks copies of Gimme Shelter. As always, a percentage of every sale will go to charity, in this case The Pet Rescue Center. Before signing off I wanted to alert our local SoCal friends to some other very cool upcoming dog events. First, on Saturday, April 5 at 10:30, Lou, Eugenie and I will be leading the pack at the American Cancer Society’s  Simi Valley ‘BARK FOR LIFE’ Fundraiser at Lemon Park. So if you live nearby, slap the leash on your best friend and join us for a good time and a good cause. Then, on April 27, my amazing vet Dr. Lisa and her colleagues at the Malibu Coast Animal Hospital will be joining forces with the angels at Heathcare for Homeless Animals (formerly Malibu Pet Companions) to host WOOFSTOCK, a combination block party and fundraiser featuring great music, fun events and celebrity hosts. I’ve already told Lou that we WILL be there, so book it, Dan-o! 
No explanation needed

RESCUE ROAD TRIPS…YELLOWSTONE WOLVES…’HONORED’ GUESTS

For some strange reason (his spotty Oscar picks?) Tanner asked me to pinch hit (write) for him today. He watched the Academy Awards with us and we all thought it was one of those years where, in the absence of a consensus juggernaut like Avatar,  a lot of good, deserving films split the pie. We were glad to see Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave get some props, and not surprised that Academy snubbed American Hustle (a gang of good actors clearly ‘acting’ in a choppy script) and Wolf Of Wall Street (an overly long paean to greed and selfishness masquerading as a cautionary tale).

With the movies behind us, we can get back to talking about our other favorites, dogs and books. In yesterday’s Parade Magazine, Peter Zheutlin delivered a moving portrait of Greg Mahle, a former restaurant owner who now runs a transport service, Rescue Road Trips, that makes bi-monthly trips from Ohio to the Deep South, to rescue ‘death row’ dogs from high-kill shelter and deliver them to their new the Northeast, where they’re taken in by loving families. If you’d like to contribute to the cause, go to rescueroadtrips.com

Thanks to our dear friend, accomplished artist and animal lover Sharon Brooks for turning us on to LOOKING FOR 527 by Susanne Belcher & Christine Baleshta. This slim volume pack a powerful wallop as a writer and artist join forces to illuminate the moving life, and tragic loss of one of the Yellowstone wolves. The authors avoid political diatribes, preferring to let their simple, loving observations of the park and its wolves make the case for reinstating U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species protection for these majestic creatures. To underscore the good wolves do, this fascinating video details the many ways in which the much maligned predators positively affect the entire ecosystem, and even the physical geography of that American gem, Yellowstone Park.

Tanner with his ‘younger’ woman, Kona

It seems that receiving the B.R.A.G. Medallion for Nonfiction has ushered in a host of honors for Tanner and GIMME SHELTER. First, we’ve been invited as ‘honored guests’ to this year’s Academic Bowl, a scholastic competition for incarcerated youth, some of whom I know from my work at the local probation camp schools. And later this month, we’ve been invited to attend the Avondale Country Club’s 12 Annual Charity Pet Show in Palm Desert. While it’s always great to hang with other animal lovers, this year’s proceeds will go to The Pet Rescue Center. Since March 13, 1998, founder Christine Madruga and her colleagues have placed over 6,033 dogs and 7,050 cats into loving homes. 

THE BEST ‘FAMILY’ DOGS ARE…WENT FISHING, CAUGHT 4 DEER!

You look a little young to be a veterinarian!

Normally our posts have to do with me, Lou’s book or our life in Malibu, but this week two very cool stories caught my eye and I wanted to share them. The Best Friends Animal Society newsletter had a story by Kelli Harmon about how to find the ‘best’ breed of dog for your family. While I’m a big advocate for pit bulls, people thinking about a dog might want to give it a read: How can you find your own version of the perfect dog? Dozens of websites have quizzes or top 10 lists of the best breeds for families (or for protection, or for people who live in an apartment, and so on). But those lists of breeds miss the mark. Why? Because they answer the wrong question. There is no perfect breed — for anyone. But there is a perfect dog out there for everyone. You just have to know what to look for. Golden retrievers and every other breed are like snowflakes – When people seek out these lists, what are they really looking for? A dog who won’t bite anyone, or will be easy for a middle schooler to walk on a leash, or a breed that doesn’t bark a lot, or is active or not very active? These things are important considerations. But looking for any of these qualities in one breed over another sets up the expectation that if you get a (insert the name of the “best” breed here), he will absolutely have (or won’t have) what matters to you. That’s where the quizzes and lists fall short. Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends, has successfully matched up thousands of dogs with families in her 15-plus years at Best Friends. She’s met hundreds of purebreds — a veritable dog show parade of breeds — over the years. Kristi says, “It’s wrong to think that every single poodle bites and every golden retriever is extra nice.” She says that anyone looking for the best dog for their family and lifestyle should base the choice on “the individual animal, and not on age, breed or mix of breeds.” Read more
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While we usually post canine news, this story about an Alasakn fisherman who went out for Halibut and came back with four deer was just too odd, and uplifting:Tom Satre told the Sitka Gazette that he was out with a charter group on his 62-foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat.“Once the deer reached the boat, the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed. I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it! Once on board, they collapsed with exhaustion, shivering.” Read the entire story: