Thursday, November 10, 2016


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. 
Kia 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

Thursday, October 20, 2016


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. 
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