Friday, May 23, 2014


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

Saturday, May 10, 2014


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. 
                                                                  ~ ~ ~ 
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

Saturday, May 3, 2014


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.
                                                                      ~ ~ ~
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

Thursday, May 1, 2014


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.
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