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2006-09-14 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

...by Joanne Anderson

Cappuccino, Akita Cappuccino, Akita The smallest thing can change the course of a life. At times that push comes in the form of a close encounter of the animal kind. Call them epiphany pets, for lack of a better name. These are special animals that enter the lives of some fortunate folks, forever diverting their path. Some are chance meetings; others are lifelong bonds. So much good, nationally and locally, can be accomplished.

Journalist Steve Dale reaches more pet owners than anyone in America. Among his many creditshe writes a twice weekly syndicated Tribune Media Services pet column; he's the contributing editor to USA Weekly and Life magazines; and he hosts 3 radio shows. Steve advocates animal issues, and has vocally opposed the damaging trend toward BSL (Breed Specific Legislation). Last month Steve wrote a tribute to his own epiphany pethis beloved, Brittany Spaniel, Chaser, who succumbed to cancer at 15.

A dozen years ago while mulling over a job offer as a pet columnist, Steve got trapped in a Chicago elevator with his 3 dogs. Chaser, then a recently, reformed juvenile dog delinquent, must have sensed his distress. She positioned herself close to him, and locked eyes with her owner, as if to say "Relax, everything will be fine." A cosmic connection emerged at that moment that helped launch the "Pet World" career Steve has today. For the rest of her life, Chaser accompanied him on many media outings, including throwing the first pitch at a major league game.

White Poodle White Poodle I met Marilyn Tucci 30 years ago when she was first beginning to lose her sight to retinal disease. Two of her 4 sons were my students. For years she was resistant to the idea of a guide dog; she said a dog would slow her down. Her youngest son became her "eyes" until he entered school full day. Finally in the late '80s, as her vision diminished, she reluctantly accepted Jessie, a Golden Retriever, from the Foundation in Smithtown.

Jessie, soon to be rechristened"Jessie the Wonderdog" was a canine Madame Curie; her instincts were Nobel caliber. Jessie saved Marilyn's life on several occasions, including preventing a fall off the LIRR platform. After a little arm twisting, I convinced Marilyn to bring Jessie and talk to my 4th graders. Marilyn went on to be one of the Foundation's best speakers, and now does recruiting for the Organ Donor Registry too. No offense to the Foundation, but Marilyn's next 2 Lab guides could never fill Jessie's paw prints.

Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff, founders of The Three Dog Bakery in 1989, owe their success to Gracie, a goofy deaf and partially blind albino Great Dane. Both Kansas City natives could barely make ends meet when the puppy Gracie took their home by storm. Despite her wild antics, Gracie's delicate system couldn't digest store bought food so Dan started cooking for her so she'd survive. Now their pet cuisine is available worldwide. (In fact, a Three Dog Bakery cake was served at my dog's July wedding.)

Gracie, such a "Grand Dane" with all the odds stacked against her, embraced life with overflowing joie d'vie. Dan and Mark soon realized that she had saved them rather than vice versa. They recount her tearful tale in the wonderful Amazing Gracie, a book that predates by 5 years the bestseller Marley & Me. The Gracie Foundation established in her memory, is now a canine Red Cross, offering assistance to many abused and neglected dogs.

Disabled pets, like Gracie, continue to teach us about ourselves. In the same way, Henry the 3-legged that I featured in the 8/31 column, has given healer and psychotherapist Cathy Conheim, more reach and voice. In her books Henry's World and What's the Matter with Henry?, Cathy describes her surprise rendezvous with an injured kitten that refused to let life's curve balls strike him out. She has turned Henry into an animal ambassadorselling her books only to help non-profits, like Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah, and small like Last Hope on LI. I'd love to see a copy of her precious book in every school and library on Long Island. Contact me and we can make that happen.

Although I'm a much smaller voice in the animal world, I also had a life changing pet. I've written this column for over 20 years because of a run-in with one dog. In 1981 I followed an Afghan sitting in the back seat of a police car to the pound. This dog opened my eyes to the buried treasure of dogs and cats just waiting to be discovered. Alfie was by far the most problematic of my Afghans, a "Norman Bates of dogs", because of his longtime prior abuse, but despite his schizoid nature, he adored us and his Afghan sister, and for his last 6 years we loved him. If it weren't for Alfie, I may have never done rescue work. Call it serendipity.

This week our two Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) poster dogs need someone to tip the hand of fate in their favor. "Cappuccino", a 4 year old purebred Akita in Cage 43, lost his home due to sad family circumstances. This gentle giant has been waiting for a second chance all summer. In contrast, this tiny stray in Cage 61 with a severe skin condition is a new arrival. Her hair loss makes her resemble a Bedlington Terrier, but she's really a white Poodle who needs lots of TLC. The shelter located at 51 Lamar St. W. Babylon is open for adoptions 10 to 3:45 week days and 10 to 2:45 on Sat. See more photos on the shelter's Petfinder site.

Female: "Rocky"the loving, spayed tux cat in C-9; a purebred German shepherd found on So. State in Cage 89; "Maggie"the goose patrol Lab mix in Cage 91; a red Siberian Husky found in Babylon Village in Cage 59; and my favorite "Diane"the sweet Shepherd mix in Cage 93.

Male: "Rex"a Pug mix in the Puppy Room; a yellow Lab who likes to play with his dish in Cage 47; 2 friendly teen tabby kittens in C-3 & C-4.

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