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Friday, February 24, 2006

Love Me, Love My Pets

Just inside my front door, there's a framed plaque that reads: "This house is maintained for the comfort and security of my dogs. Anyone who can't accept that can't accept me, so go away.''

And I mean it.

There are those who don't understand the priorities of a person who would issue such an edict, like my 89-year-old mother.

"I just don't know how you got this way,'' she says, as if having four big dogs and letting them sleep on the furniture (and with me) signals some kind of personality disorder. Then again, she may never have forgiven me for putting that hamster I won at the school carnival in her bed in 1964.

I don't know how I got this way either, but I'm glad I am. My dogs think I'm perfect, which sets a pretty high bar for human behavior and ethics - unattainable, of course, but the world would be a kinder, more compassionate place if we all tried to reach it.

Of course having so many dogs costs a fortune, but I figure it this way: They don't wear shoes, need college tuition, or jack up the car-insurance premiums, so they're far more cost-effective than children. All you need is a fenced yard and a doggie door, and you're in business.

I can't remember a time when I didn't love critters, especially dogs. Long before I was mature enough to appreciate their classic virtues - loyalty, companionship, complete acceptance of every miserable human foible - I was drawn, as if by a genetic bond, to the sheer goofiness of them.

I've never had cable TV, because who needs to sit in front a screen to watch dogs cavorting and romping like wild creatures in a National Geographic special, when you can have it live in the back yard? Sure, you don't have to poop patrol your TV, but it's a small price to pay.

I've had dogs literally since birth, 57 years ago in New York, and recall whining for a pony for every birthday until I was, probably, 21. By now I've had 17 dogs, as well as various birds, rodents and small reptiles. I also have a thing about pigs, which I find amusing, but that's a subject for another day. The longest I've been dogless was three years, a hiatus I hope never to repeat.

The family's first pet was a white standard poodle named Snowy Chanel. She was sweet and placid and not very bright. My father, who is 92, still recalls how he could prevent her from entering a room simply by placing a brown paper grocery sack in its doorway. She lived to 13, then one summer when I was at camp, my parents sent her to a farm. I actually believed that until high school, when I realized that Snowy hadn't gone to live on a farm; she'd "bought the farm.'' One more issue to deal with in therapy, but that's another story.

When I moved to South Florida from Louisville in 1989, I brought with me Harpo, a golden/collie mix. I got him through a "free to good home’’ ad in The Courier-Journal, the paper I’d been writing for since 1977. I drove out to the country, up a long driveway, and got out of the car. He came charging up to me, screeched to a halt, jumped up, put his paws on my shoulders, and licked my face.

"Get in the car," I said.

We lived near a big city park with woods and a creek. In those days, dogs could run free in parks, and nearly every day after work we’d go there. It was dog heaven, full of squirrels, ducks, and other dogs to chase. So South Florida was something of an adjustment to both of us: a house in the South Lake section of Hollywood with a tiny yard, but the lake a block away, so there was good leash walking.

For a year after we got here - with Lance the little green lizard, who made the trip in a clear plastic box on the dashboard, shedding his skin the whole way - I also had a chicken, Chuck E. Chicken (made famous by my former colleague Dave Barry in a 1993 column that was ostensibly about an invitation I’d passed on to him to judge a "fashionable people’’ contest - I was, improbably, fashion writer at the time - but among other things, discussed how I had to shoot nasal spray into Harpo’s nose).

I was driving one day near Cedars Medical Center and glimpsed a tiny ball of white fluff about to fall down a storm drain. Lurching to a halt in the middle of the street, I grabbed it up. It was a chicken. This was shortly after Easter so I figured it was a basket escapee. I found a box and put the chicken in it, then returned to the Herald where I told the security guard I needed to park under the building in the big-shots' parking lot, where it was shady, because I had a chicken in the car. Of course he thought I was insane, but permitted me to do so.

When I left several hours later, I found that the chicken had hopped out of the box and generously fertilized the upholstery. Oh well…In any case, he was probably a she, and grew into a sizeable white Leghorn, free-ranging around Hibiscus Island in Miami Beach, where I was housesitting. This was an ideal setup for a barnyard fowl and a dog, because they could only wander so far. I left instructions with the causeway guard to turn them around if they tried to make a break for it.

Chuck would roost in the palm trees at night, and proved most entertaining to my friends, especially after a few drinks.

About a year later, after I moved back to Hollywood, Chuck decided to cross the road. Hollywood Boulevard, in fact. Somehow, he/she made it across four lanes of traffic and was spotted on a golf course by one of my coworkers. Harpo, no doubt calling upon primeval instincts, rounded him/her up, and we made it safely back home.

Not long after, however, Chuck developed some sort of chicken malady and began listing to port when walking. After a week on life support at the vet, it was clear Chuck’s short but pleasant life was over, so amid my friends’ cruel jokes about McNuggets, I pulled the plug.

RIP, Chuck E. Chicken.

Harpo sadly succumbed to an undetected abdominal tumor in 1994. He used to spend hours across the street, under a neighbor's shade tree, then saunter home for dinner. One evening he didn't come home, so I went to get him. He was barely breathing. In a state of near hysteria, I called my vet and neighbor, Dr. Ron Tapper of Emerald Hills Animal Hospital. He ran right over, whisked Harpo to the hospital, did some exploratory surgery, then called with the news that he couldn’t be saved. (I now live 25 miles from his hospital but I still take my critters to Ron. He's that good).

By then, my household included a boyfriend, who came with multiple canines: Melanie, a mopey and cranky old hound who lived to 16, and Mickey Jones, a Dalmatian with a blue eye and a brown eye, who astoundingly lived to 22 and even then, had to be euthanized (after several months of being unable to stand or walk). On his final day, we treated him to a steak, an ice cream sundae, and a Bud, and I like to think he departed this life with a smile on his face.

We jointly acquired Maybelline, a stray Dalmatian who looked like she was wearing eye makeup, and ultimately went to live with a Herald colleague; and Kendall, my Hurricane Andrew orphan (found on Kendall Drive after the storm). She’s the only one remaining from that group and is now about 16.

Once svelte and sprightly, she’s beset by the afflictions of old age. She doesn’t do much except sleep on her fleecy bed, but the sound of kibble hitting the bowl still gets her attention. Her nickname used to be "Meatball,’’ honoring her love of dining (she eats lying down). But as with many elderly ladies she’s grown rather portly. Now Meatloaf is more appropriate. She had a malignant thyroid tumor removed last year but appears to be cancer free.

(She posed with me for my book-jacket photo in 1994. I do actually write about other things than critters. The book is Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors, about the Polish Jews saved by Oskar Schindler from the Nazis).

Gracie and CC are about 12, both strays, both about 50 pounds, both generic black dogs. Gracie is part Lab with who-knows-what that contributed white markings and a freckly face. Despite her age, she’s still all attitude and guile. She’s a real talker, which those who don’t know dogs mistake for growling. Her favorite activity is raiding wastepaper baskets for tissues and dental floss. Apparently, these are great delicacies for a dog.

When my then-boyfriend brought her home in 1993, she was a tiny puppy. First night, I snuggled her close to me in bed. He said, "You let that dog stay in this bed, you’ll never get her out.’’ He was right.

She’s quite proprietary about her toys. If another dog dares to claim her hedgehog, she’ll plot and scheme and literally dive-bomb whoever has it - sometimes from the vantage point of a sofa, for maximum velocity.

CC is black/brown and exceedingly fluffy, and might have some border collie in her. She came off the streets of Coral Gables. She’s the nervous type, fraught with anxieties, and always has something to say about everyone else’s activities. She flips around in tight circles, barking, when she gets excited. She also has the maddening habit of walking in front of you, very slowly, so that getting around her is like passing a city bus. I think she has issues.

Then there’s Shadow, my Golden. He’s 10, and like thousands of Goldens acquired by small children during the "Homeward Bound’’ era, was named for the canine hero of the movie. He hails from a breeder in Hialeah and is ACK registered, the son of Zachary Angel Puppy and Cheyenne Autumn XXI.

Some friends bought him (at considerable expense) for their daughter, not realizing that a retriever puppy, a muddy canal behind the house, and white living room upholstery, is a losing proposition. I have slipcovers with busy patterns. And a ShopVac.

He was about six months old when he came into my life. By then, we were living in a house with a pool. He was never dry except first thing in the morning. If no one was around the throw a toy into the pool for him to fetch, he’d go to one of the orange trees, grab an orange, and roll it into the pool with his nose. He’d watch it sink to the bottom, roll to the deep end - 11 feet - dive in, grab it, and pop to the surface. This would go on all day.

Indeed, this trick was so noteworthy that it landed Shadow and his little girl - my kinda, sorta stepdaughter Alex (daughter of the ex-boyfriend. She's now a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter High School) - on national TV. I think Alex was 7 at the time. The show was called "Figure it Out,’’ on Nickelodeon. It was like the old "I’ve Got a Secret,’’ and involved some nasty green slime that got sprayed over the celebrity panel - one member of which was actor Sherman Hemsley - if they answered incorrectly.

The panel had to figure out that Alex’s dog could dive to the bottom of an 11-foot pool to retrieve his toy.

The taping was in Orlando, complete with underwater video cameras shooting up as Shadow plunged into the pool, spiraled down, grabbed the rope bone, then rocketed up with bubbles streaming from his nose. Then we all went to Universal Studios for the panel portion of the taping. Alex and Shadow came in second but she didn't care. Being on TV trumped whatever prizes were handed out.

I also have Alex to thank, indirectly, for the cockatiels, Bart and Chaucer, who round out my current menagerie. In 2000, she volunteered to take in a pair of ‘tiels that had somehow wound up with her rabbi. I think they’d belonged to an elderly person in the congregation who could no longer keep them.

We named them Homer and Marge, in homage to my all-time favorite cartoon: The Simpsons. When Homer died, he was replaced by Bart. Then Marge expired and - this is a long story for another time - I got Chaucer, who’d belonged to the one-time college roommate of Hadassah Lieberman.
Both birds wolf whistle, and Bart, if prompted, will sing "Would You Like to Swing on a Star?’’ Sometimes the dogs watch them like they’re TV. When they walk around the house, they sort of waddle, like March of the Cockatiels.

(For awhile, Alex had a green, ring-necked parakeet named Stella, a rather cantankerous bird who was intermittently amusing but had a beak like a jackhammer and wasn’t afraid to use it. She came to live with me several years ago and may have suffered a heart attack. I found her belly up in the seed cup one day after work, and she’s now buried among the ferns in my yard).

I also have two step-dogs, who belong to my sweetie, Jake: Harley - AKA The King of Dania Beach - an 8-year-old, 125-pound Arctic wolf/German shepherd hybrid who, like Mickey, has one brown and one blue eye, and Cowboy, a mostly Golden snatched off Death Row at the Miami-Dade County Animal Shelter last fall, when he was about a year old. He had canine flu and was, pardon the expression, sick as a dog for a week.

But we believe that shelter animals need a break, even if it costs a few extra bucks. OK- more than a few in this case, but it was completely worth it. He's a real clown, who cocks his head from side to side just like cartoon dogs, and will play with anybody, anytime, until he drops.

Jake, who actually IS a cowboy, decided to name him not just for his lifestyle, but in memory of a Golden named Cowboy tragically euthanized at the shelter as his family was on the way to claim him.

Let me just say one thing about wolves. They've gotten a bad rap on the viciousness thing. Harley is about as aggressive as Jell-O. He's so laid back we mockingly call him Fireball. He distains exertion utterly, and expects to be served like the royalty he is. He lives to ride in the truck, where Jake keeps a sign to hold up to incredulous drivers: ''Yes, he is a wolf."

True to his lupine nature, he howls, especially to Bonnie Raitt's "Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About,'' and Garth Brooks's "Thunder Rolls,'' on the radio. I think there's a Grammy in his future: Best backup vocals by a wolf.

Being the big, furry blended family we are involves much cross-county dog-hauling, but that's the way life is ... until we win the lottery and can buy a 20-acre dog ranch, where we'll all live happily ever after.

Condo Canines

I can't imagine being faced with this: giving up my dogs because the place where I live won't allow them. Frankly, I think I'd rather live in the car.

But a lot of people move to condos - especially in South Florida - and condos often forbid animals, so thousands of beloved family pets end up in shelters or worse: on the euthanasia table. How heartbreaking.

There's a group fighting this: Citizens for Pets in Condos. I got an e-mail from Maida Genser of Tamarac explaining that the group wants “softened’ no-pet rules.

"There are already more than sufficient city and county pet regulations,'' she wrote. "Individual communities have no need to legislate about pets. As long as people are responsible with their pets, they should be allowed to have them.''

She sent me to the group's website:, which among other things, points out that pets keep people healthy and active, and that forbidding them unfairly impacts seniors.

This is a worthy effort that deserves support, for the sake of both people and pets.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dine With Your Dog

You go to certain countries in Europe and you see dogs everywhere: in department stores, train stations, especially restaurants. Every sidewalk cafe has a dog under it. Sort of like Miami Beach.

But it's legal in Europe, not in Miami Beach - or anywhere in Florida, for that matter, even though many restaurants wink at the law.

The Florida Legislature could change that, making dogs street legal at outdoor cafes. This would be great!

State Rep. Sheri McInvale, an Orlando Democrat, has initiated a bill that would allow cities to decide whether to give restaurants the option of allowing dogs in outdoor areas, the Herald's Evan Benn has reported.

``The idea is to empower cities to make that decision, instead of having a blanket policy,'' said state Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, who co-sponsored the House bill. ``My district in Coral Springs has similar eateries on University Drive. I think it would be a nice option if the city said it was OK [for patrons] to sit there with their dogs.''

Dogs would have to be leashed, hand sanitizers would have to be on tables where dogs are allowed, and the wait staff can't pet the pups. The bill has already passed one House committee, though a companion bill in the Senate has not had a hearing.

``I see it as a positive thing,'' Jim Naugle, Fort Lauderdale's mayor and owner of a Labrador retriever, told Evan. ``There are some places that allow it now. As long as you leave it up to the restaurant operator, I think it's a good idea.''

So does Crazy for Critters.

Miami Beach Dogs Fight City Hall and Win! (for now)

Here's an update on the Beach Walk situation (thanks to reader Jo Manning, who says she doesn't have a dog but loves critters):

"The Neighborhoods Committee passed a 6-month extension for the dogs on the Beach Walk. Dog owners and dog lovers in attendance were stunned at the skewed survey cited as evidence by the Department of Public Works [that dogs were making a mess] and the vagueness centering around how often the Beach Walk is cleaned.

"First we heard every morning and every afternoon, then once a week. Well, the bottom line is that there is little if any doggie doo deposited on this stretch of paved walkway from 14th to 21st Streets. Also, note that the doggie-doo plastic dispensers are rarely filled. If there are really workers cleaning up the Beach Walk every day, there is no excuse for not filling the dispensers.

"Yes, there are rogue dogs -- attached to rogue owners -- and these owners should be fined, but the responsible dog owners far, far outnumber the outlaws.

"And when is someone going to clean up the broken glass on the Beach Walk, repair the vandalized rope fences, and sweep away the beach sand? The maintenance is woeful, indeed. Can't blame this stuff on the dogs!''

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Don't forget the Humane Society of Greater Miami and Adopt-A-Pet's Pet-A-Paw-Looza and Walk for the Animals fundraiser on Saturday.

You can walk with or without your dog around Bayfront Park. A minimum $50 pledge gets you the official T-shirt, doggie bandana, goodie bag and a one-year subscription to Pet Parade magazine.

The top three fundraisers will win prizes including stays at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood.

The top fundraiser will also get the original artwork from which this year's Walk logo was created, painted by world-renowned artist and long-time Society friend Marc Tetro.

There will be a doggie fun zone, advice from pet experts, the Waverunners Flyball Racing Team (a dog sport), demonstrations by the North Miami Beach Canine Unit and Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.

For directions and parking information, visit:

Check-in at 8:30 am. Entertainment 9 am-noon. The walk begins at 10 am. Winners announced at 11:30 am.

Miami Beach Dogs Fight City Hall

The issue is an impeding ban of dogs on leashes from the Beach Walk, and dog people who oppose it will head for City Hall today, armed with petitions.

They call themselves the Woof Patrol – there’s even a t-shirt – and they'll be meeting in the lobby of 1500 Ocean Drive at 2pm today, then walk their petitions over to the city commissioners. (For last-minute information, call 917.847.2854. Also check Responsible Pet Owners of Miami Beach, which is sponsoring a "polite poop control'' event at 10 am Saturday, 15th Street and Beach Walk. Motto: Keep Our Beach Bow-Wow Clean and Did You Forget Something?)

Here’s the issue, from Woof Patroller Yvonne Conza:

"In the spring of 2006, when our new and beautiful Beach Walk was nearing completion, it came to the attention of our friends and neighbors that our pets would not be welcomed on it. At that time, Intelligence Security Service officers, hired by the city, were stopping citizens who were walking with their dogs and asking them to leave.

''In May of 2006, a number full-time residents with voter registration cards, part-time residents, and tourists, as well as representatives of local businesses, attended a city commission hearing.

''Commissioner Jose Smith placed the “pet-friendly Beach Walk” on the agenda. The commissioners voted to allow pets on a trial basis for 90 days. They also instructed City Manager Gonzalez to install “doggie” dispensers along the walk. The 90 days came and went. And it was deemed a success at least by the people.''

But apparently not by city officials. Hence, the petition drive.

Yvonne points out that dog walkers want the rules enforced: "We would like those with the proper authority to enforce the city’s policies, for example: ticketing a dog owner with their dog off the leash. We would also like to see the other problems on the Beach Walk addressed such as:
discarded prophylactics, razor blades, food, soiled diapers and underwear, cans, broken glass, cups from Starbucks, Styrofoam cartons from Jerry’s, receipts from Walgreens, broken rope fences, homeless people, deliberately discarded club and performer promotional material, cigarette and cigar butts and much more.

''An informal survey we did this weekend found bicycles, not dogs, were what folks using the Beach Walk disliked the most. The issue is not about dogs but about responsible city maintenance.''

Vivi: The Natalee Holloway of the Dog World

Vivi, the 30-pound champion whippet that bolted, at 25 mph, from her cage on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport, is still missing.

Now she's the Natalee Holloway of the dog world. Helicopters and ground searchers near the Long Island airport failed to find her at the airport or in the nearby marshes. But psychics claim she's alive and well, and her owners have posted a $10,000 reward for the $20,000 dog.

Search parties are still combing the area. The Westminster, where the California dog took an Award of Merit, is underwriting sniffer dogs. And there was renewed hope Monday after what may have been whippet droppings were found.

Newsday, the local paper, is all over the story, so for a day-by-day update, go to

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Warm and Fuzzy=Better Health

Why do we have pets? Because they make us feel good, would probably be a fair answer. Now there's really interesting new evidence that they can make and/or keep us mentally and physically healthier. Check out this info:

From the winter 2006 edition of bp Magazine:

''While service animals are working pets trained to perform tasks for disabled individuals, a feature article in the winter edition of bp Magazine reveals that pets can play an equally important role as “emotional support animals” to individuals with bipolar disorder.

''People with bipolar disorder report a variety of benefits from their pets. For one, they can provide something to focus on other than the individual’s own emotional challenges.

''Pet ownership also fosters a sense of responsibility for another living creature. Just as petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure, caring for a loved pet helps those with bipolar disorder calm themselves and reduce feelings of isolation. In fact, an animal may be a depressed person’s only link to social activity.''

Read the whole article at

Also check out this update on the ability of dogs to sniff out certain cancers: (from the March 2006 issue of Integrative Cancer Therapies, a peer-reviewed journal) :

''...A dog's nose, considered by both dog trainers and chemists alike to be one of the world's most powerful olfactory sensor, was the "medical device" used in this research. In a study of 86 people (55 with lung cancer and 31 with breast cancer), five professionally trained scent dogs accurately distinguished between breath samples from diseased patients and those from 83 healthy controls. The dogs' ability to correctly identify or rule-out lung and breast cancer, at both early and late stages, was around 90%...This work is based on the hypothesis that cancer cells emit different metabolic waste products than normal cells. The differences between these metabolic products are apparently so great that they can be detected by a dog's keen sense of smell, even in the early stages of disease.''

Read the whole article at, on the site of The Pine Street Foundation, a California nonprofit with a mission to ''help cancer patients reach more informed treatment decisions through education and research.''

Monday, February 20, 2006

More Great Westminster Photos

Jose Iglesias, the Herald photographer who went with me to Westminster, has his own blog with a photo gallery where you can see a more great pictures. Go to Enjoy!

Pet lovers to the rescue

The number of unwanted pets killed in shelters every year in the United States is really horrific: 7 million (20,830 in Miami-Dade County alone). The cause is no secret: overpopulation caused almost entirely by the public's incomprehensible resistance to spaying and neutering their animals.

It doesn't help that too many pet owners don't license and tag, don't microchip or otherwise provide identifying information for speedy reunification with their lost critters (or that instead of adopting from shelters, prospective pet owners perpetuate the existence of puppy mills that crank out litters of dubious purebreds).

Standing between thousands of animals and death-by-euthanasia at shelters, are rescue groups: volunteers who troll the cages day after day pulling out purebreds and other adoptable aminals.

If you can't stand the thought of going to the pound to adopt, please consider contacting a rescue group (or visiting your local Humane Society).

A few suggestions: Check out Miami-Dade Rescue Railroad,, where you can look at pictures of available pets. The group was recently filmed for a documentary on animal rescue and transport. and Lorraine Ehrhart, a spokesperson, says it could air on Animal Planet.

"We are desperate for new volunteers and would welcome any help you may be able to provide to help get the word out about our unique organization,'' she told me.

Another group with which I'm familiar is Tropical Dawg Golden Retriever Rescue: Go there for photos of wonderful Goldens looking for homes.

For lists of rescue groups and shelters in Florida, go to (thanks to Cyndi of Tropical Dawg for the tips).

Raise money for animals

The Delray Beach Film Festival, March 8th-12th (, will donate some proceeds to the Peggy Adams Rescue League, which plans to build a free spay/neuter facility.

There's a volunteer meeting Feb. 21, 7:30 pm, the Palm Theater at the Embassy Suites, Yamato Rd. and I-95. Questions? E-mail Geri at