TV for dogs reaches prime time

Bark if you love DogTV.

The new made-in-Israel U.S. cable channel is scientifically programmed to keep pooches stimulated, happy and comforted when they’re home alone.

When dogs are left alone, they can get depressed, lose their appetite and their desire to play, says DogTV CEO Gilad Neumann. There are 46 million households with dogs in the United States, encompassing a total of 78.2 million pet canines.

“That’s quite a few potential viewers and many lonely dogs,” he said. “It’s all very scientific, although I know it sounds like a joke. When you dig deeper, you see it’s a serious business.”

Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications began a six-month free trial of the 24-hour digital channel on Feb. 13 for their one million viewers in San Diego. If it is successful, DogTV will be distributed more widely as a subscription-based service, Neumann said.

The concept came from Ron Levi, a New York-born dog lover and chief content officer at Jasmine Group, a private media communications company in Ramat Gan.

At the time, Neumann was CEO of Jasmine TV, one of several subsidiaries of the Jasmine media conglomerate whose July-August Productions recently sold the format for the hit game show “Who’s Still Standing?” to NBC Universal.

“We’re always seeking interesting ideas with an emphasis on international expansion. So when Ron approached me with this idea, I thought it was crazy enough to look into,” Neumann said. He suggested that Jasmine invest some seed money to explore the idea.

Their research revealed that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States all recommend leaving the TV on for dogs home alone, to provide stimulation and keep away stress and depression.

“We combined this with a lot of science on the effects of video on dogs, how they react to TV and what kind of visuals, music and sounds they enjoy,” Neumann said.

He recruited professor Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University’s animal behavior department as DogTV’s program director and chief scientist. Dodman explains on DogTV’s Web site that dogs won’t sit on the couch for hours at a time watching the channel. It’s more like a backdrop with a pleasing soundtrack that they can choose to view as long as they wish.

British trainer Victoria Stilwell, from the Animal Planet series “It’s Me or the Dog,” and Warren Eckstein, an animal rights activist and pet trainer, round out the crew of DogTV experts.

“They added their knowledge to our production experience,” said Neumann, who holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a law degree from the Israeli College of Management.

As good as the idea was, it couldn’t have been put into action if not for the introduction of LCD television technology. Neumann explains that dogs’ eyes are bothered by the flickering frames on old analog televisions, though humans don’t notice them.

“Now they can see perfectly fine on LCD, but they can only see blue and yellow, so we enhance and recolor the contents for them,” Neumann explained.

As content developer, Levi organized the channel’s programming into three categories: shows meant to relax dogs, shows that stimulate them and shows intended to expose them gently to situations with which they may need to get more comfortable — such as a running vacuum cleaner or street traffic.

“This creates a companionship environment,” Neumann said, “a channel that is fully suitable for dogs. ”

This is hardly the first instance of an Israeli TV show hitting prime time in the United States. “In Treatment,” “Homeland,” “Traffic Light” and “The Ex List” went first. However, it is the first time a programming concept has gone directly from the Israeli drawing board to American TV screens. Neumann hopes DogTV is barking up the right tree.

Olins Reaches Out to Teens, Pet Owners

When Maggie died, the Goodman family turned to Rabbi Sally Olins for comfort. As she had at other times of tragedy in the past, Olins helped them in their healing, composing prayers and blessings and crafting a stone memorial marker.

Olins, rabbi of the Conservative Temple B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, encouraged them to share memories of Maggie — how she jumped up on the bed every morning or how she loved to stick her head out the car window.

Maggie, a wheaten terrier, had been part of their family for 14 years, and Olins understood that moving on would take guidance and strength.

“It was very helpful to have a rabbi help us grieve and to understand what we were going through, because she has that feeling toward pets,” said Vicky Goodman, who with her husband Chip raised Maggie with their two daughters.

A few months ago, Olins founded Pets at Rest, a business through which she has already helped a small handful of people memorialize their beloved creatures through prayers, eulogies and memorial books.

“People need to stop to say ‘Thank you, God, for the pleasure this creature has brought into our life,'” Olins said.

But Olins understands that pet memorials are not part of her rabbinic duties. She keeps Pets at Rest separate from B’nai Hayim, where Olins has been for 15 years (though her 15-year-old Lhasa Apso, Kelev, sits under her desk on weekdays).

Olins, a petite grandmother of two with stylish flare, exudes an air of hip approachability.

As the 10th woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi who this year became the first woman ever appointed a regional president of the Rabbinic Assembly, Olins doesn’t ignore the challenges of being a woman on the bimah.

She wears a clerical robe every Shabbat, she said, which has neutralized the “What is she wearing?” distraction.

Olins was waiting in the wings throughout the 1970s and ’80s as the Conservative movement struggled with the question of whether to ordain women.

With teaching credentials and a master’s in kinesiology from UCLA, and an interest in modern dance, Olins taught in Los Angeles public schools and opened the fine arts department at Westlake School for Girls in the 1960s. In 1972, Olins founded The Firm Company in Westwood, a nationally recognized business that taught dance exercise to about 600 women a week for 13 years.

But throughout that time, Olins was also pursuing her dream to become a rabbi, one she held ever since she would walk to shul with her Grandpa John in Cincinnati when she was 9, before she moved to Beverly Hills.

She got her master’s in Jewish philosophy at the University of Judaism, and stayed on to take courses in the rabbinic school even before ordination for women was approved in 1986.

Soon after that decision, at 38, Olins began commuting to New York to work toward ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary. With her husband’s law practice in Los Angeles and her daughter about to graduate high school, Olins spent four days a week in New York and three days in Los Angeles studying with local rabbis and interning at B’nai Hayim. She kept that schedule for three years and was ordained in 1989.

Olins’ fierce determination to become a rabbi still comes through in the energy she puts into her work at B’nai Hayim, a 220-family congregation set into the woodsy streets just south of Ventura Boulevard.

The services she conducts with Cantor Mark Gomberg are interactive and her sermons current and relevant, members say, with Olins conducting Phil Donahue-like discussions on ethical questions during Friday night services.

“When my husband and I moved to the Valley we did all this temple shopping, and when Rabbi Sally started her banter with the cantor, we could not believe how fun it was and how lively,” said Beth Laski, who joined last year.

Olins teaches each bar and bat mitzvah student herself. She has four confirmation classes, since two of her classes refused to graduate when their required two years were completed.

On Thursday nights, she has 20 teens to her house to eat pizza and watch “Friends” on DVD.

“We take segments of ‘Friends’ and count how many ways they break the Ten Commandments,” Olins said. “You better believe they watch ‘Friends’ in a new light.”

Olins hopes that program like these help her members understand that Judaism can be central to their lives, as it is for her.

“Some day I’ll be dead and gone and they will remember that it was fun with me, that I wore jeans and that we ate pizza and studied together,” Olins said. “And when it comes to making a decision of who to marry, their sense of Jewish identity will be so strong, and maybe I’ll have played a part in that.”

For Pets at Rest, call (818) 388-8867. For B’nai Hayim, call (818) 788-4664.

Cat on a Hot Tin Stereotype

There’s something inherently sexy about a woman who owns a dog. I don’t mean a pug or a poodle. I mean a bruiser; a canine that’s muscular and intense, a beast that succumbs to her quiet command. Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for a single woman with a cat.

Get yourself one little cat and you walk into a whole kitty-litter box full of stereotypes. If you live alone with a cat, or worse, two or three, and you might as well be Miss Havisham from “Great Expectations.” Why not just throw in some lovingly placed sachets of potpourri and a few cutesy picture frames and man-proof the place entirely?

For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having cats. In fact, I’ve started pining for one like crazy, and it’s because of my new feline-fetish that I’ve had to seriously question whether I want to willingly take on such an unpleasant stereotype, one that’s sure to be interpreted in ways that don’t suit me.

As a Jewish woman I think I’m especially sensitive to being a cliché. All of my life I’ve grimaced when people assumed my dad was a doctor, lawyer or professor. I love being the daughter of an auto mechanic, raised in the inner city and working class to the bone. I love the way one piece of information shocks people into reassessing their understanding of my culture. I love being a female sports fan. I get a little thrill when I’m the only woman in the movie line for some testosterone flick. I relish being the opposite of what people expect.

A manager once suggested that I get a nose job. No way, I thought. I couldn’t live with admitting that to people. I would be sticking my newly patrician nose smack dab into people’s perceptions of what being a young Jewish woman is all about.