Dog trainer Tamar Geller uses positive reinforcement — not fear — to build confidence. Photo by Janiece Benlty

Celebrities respond as Tamar Geller unleashes puppy love to train dogs


Israeli-born dog trainer Tamar Geller sat in her Bel Air living room surrounded by five well-mannered, tail-wagging canines, including Oliver, her golden retriever, who was mislabeled as aggressive by his previous owners and faced possible euthanasia. Nearby was Katy, her pit bull mix, who once wanted to attack “every male who came to my house,” Geller said, and a German shepherd who had come to her home for a weeklong “training vacation,” during which she will learn doggie “life skills,” as Geller put it.

When a UPS driver rang the doorbell with a delivery, some of the dogs started barking. “Shush,” Geller said. And when the pooches complied: “Good shush,” she told each pooch by name in a joyful voice.

Geller’s longtime client Oprah Winfrey has called her “a life coach for dogs and their people.” The trainer eschews the use of forceful practices in favor of cruelty-free methods. She doesn’t issue commands or use the word “no.”

“A lot of people who call themselves trainers say to the dog, ‘You’re going to shut up, and you’re going to be obedient,’ ” said Geller, 53. “But I don’t care about obedience. I also don’t care about ‘respect.’ Science has shown that dogs’ cognitive development is very much like the human toddler, and I don’t want a child to come to his mother with respect; I want him to come with love and trust. The dog has a story to tell, and it’s my job to [help], because in the process that’s tikkun olam — making the world a better place.”

Rather than using harsh words to curb continuing unwanted behavior, Geller might turn her back on a dog for, say, excessive jumping. For superb behavior, she “makes a party,” which involves praising the dog and offering treats. While initial training might involve lavish goodies, Geller tapers off the treat-giving to once in a while. Random rewards work best to ensure a well-mannered dog, she said, citing the renowned behaviorist B.F. Skinner — the dog behaves well because he never knows when he is going to get lucky.

Geller never set out to become a dog trainer. Rather, she aspired to become a psychologist, in part to understand the abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents while growing up on a moshav in Israel. Her parents often beat her, sending Geller to the hospital more than a few times with a dislocated shoulder.

Her childhood dog, Lori, a dachshund, also was mistreated. “My parents housebroke him by hitting him on the nose with a newspaper,” Geller writes in the first of her three books, the 2007 best-seller “The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior,” which has a foreword written by Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “When the poor puppy innocently chewed up my father’s stereo wires one day, he beat the living daylights out of him. … After Lori had been disciplined and shamed, I would take him to my bed and cuddle him to sleep. I now know that my parents trained Lori the way they raised me.”

While later serving as an intelligence officer in the Israeli army’s elite special forces, Geller witnessed the brutal training of dogs for the military. “The idea of breaking an animal’s spirit was popular at the time, and they used what I have come to call ‘Spanish Inquisition’ methods — choke chains, prong collars, hitting, pushing and more,” she writes. And later: “I wanted to scream out, ‘Stop this right now!’ ” But she didn’t yet have any training alternatives to suggest. (The army’s methods have since changed, she said.)

After Geller finished her military service, she decided “to get away from humans for a while.” She headed to a research facility in the Arava Desert, where eventually she began observing the behavior of wild Asian wolves. She was impressed by how the alpha male used games to teach his pack members how to hunt and to behave. Geller eventually would use some of those games, including “chase” and tug of war, to train her own canine clients.

Her professional career with dogs began almost by accident. Geller traveled to Los Angeles in the late 1980s for what was supposed to be just a couple of weeks when she decided to volunteer for a dog trainer. One day, he received a call from a Beverly Hills resident whose pooch kept stealing his socks. The trainer didn’t want to deal with a potentially difficult, wealthy client, so he sent Geller instead, even though her English wasn’t good at the time. 

She diagnosed that the cocker spaniel in question had an attention-seeking issue. “He knew if he stole socks, his owner would drop everything and chase him,” she said. Geller taught the owner to play tug of war and other games with the spaniel, “so he got his needs met in a constructive rather than a disruptive way,” she said. The problem was solved in two days.

The client was the musician Kenny G, and before long he was telling his celebrity friends about Geller. “All of a sudden, Goldie Hawn and a bunch of other famous people were calling me,” she said.

One of those clients, actress Nicollette Sheridan, eventually introduced Geller to Winfrey. When the talk show host adopted three golden retriever puppies, she arranged for Geller to live with her for a month to train them.

Natalie Portman hired Geller to help her pick out her Yorkie from a shelter in Harlem.

For her efforts, Geller has become the resident dog expert for the “Today” show and has earned praise from celebrity clients such as Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, Ryan Seacrest and Charlize Theron. She has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today and other publications. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has collaborated with her to make dog training videos for the organization.   

“While some misguided trainers use yelling, yanking, and abusive devices like shock collars, choke and pinch collars, Tamar uses positive reinforcement to build confidence in dogs, not fear,” PETA Vice President Lisa Lange said in an email.

Geller doesn’t work only with celebrities; anyone can hire her to train their canine, with the fee based on the dog, the owner and the behavioral issue.

Do Geller’s methods merely coddle dogs? “I do not believe that giving love is in any way a negative connotation, particularly in the teaching process,” she said.

“Dogs come from a different culture; they’re foreigners to the human culture,” she added. “We have to teach them our ways, with endless sources of compassion.” 

Netanyahu family dog in quarantine after biting Likud lawmaker


Veterinary authorities quarantined the family dog of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after she bit a lawmaker at a Chanukah reception.

The dog, Kaia, was placed in quarantine Thursday as per health ministry regulations after she bit Sharren Haskel, a Likud member of the Knesset, and another person the previous day at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, the news site Ynet reported.

“We had to give away Kaia to be quarantined as legally required,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. “Following this incident, I became aware of the issue of quarantine regulations for dogs and I found in it problems that conform neither with logic nor compassion.”

He added he would ask officials from the health and agriculture ministries, as well as animal rights groups, to “formulate suggestions to change and improve the existing laws.” Netanyahu ended his post with a greeting and happy Chanukah “to us all, two and four-legged alike.”

Dogs, cats and other mammalian pets who bit a person are required to be quarantined for 10 days of observation to determine they do not have rabies. In some cases, animals may be quarantined in their owner’s home, but the vast majority of cases  — some 3,500 annually — are held in municipal facilities.

According to Ynet, Kaia bit the prime minister in July, shortly after she was adopted, and was not quarantined, though Netanyahu was given anti-rabies shots as a precaution.

Described by the Netanyahus as a “kind and friendly dog,” Kaia, who is 10 years old, suffers from bad hearing which makes her startle and sometimes bite when approached from behind, Ynet reported.

The news site published a picture of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry petting Kaia with Netanyahu during his last visit to Israel. Kerry is seen facing her.

A pawsitive impact: bar mitzvah project aims to help families in need


Alex Michaels will tell you that his dog, Frisco, is no ordinary household pet.

As a trained therapy and service dog, the 2 1/2-year-old poodle is a primary comfort-giver and companion to Alex’s mom, Marlene Michaels, who is fighting stage 4 lung cancer. He stays by her side during the day when Alex; his older brother, Stephen; and his dad, Randy, are out. Frisco patiently accompanies Marlene to all her doctor appointments and the hospital for treatments. And he is a source of love and emotional support to the entire Michaels family as they struggle to cope with Marlene’s illness.

So when Alex, 13, of Westlake Village, considered what to do for his mitzvah project this year, he and his parents knew they wanted to help other families experience the joy that Frisco has given them. Alex, who celebrated his bar mitzvah on March 28 at Camp Ramah in Ojai, set up an online campaign to raise $5,000 to help pay the cost of training a service or therapy dog for other families. As of May 6, he’d raised more than half of his goal.

“I want to raise money to help more people,” said Alex, who attends the Conservative Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills. “I hope it’ll make them feel happy.”

His own family first thought about looking for a service dog for themselves in late 2012, shortly after Marlene was diagnosed. Randy said the family felt that having a dog would provide some relief from the constant focus on his wife’s cancer. 

A friend put them in touch with Jill Breitner, a service and therapy dog trainer who until recently was based in the Los Angeles area and now lives in Northern California. Breitner said she knew of a puppy that would be perfect for them, and the family arranged to meet her and Frisco at a park in Encino.

“It was love at first sight,” Randy said. “He really took not only to the boys but also was so warm and loving toward Marlene, which is a really good sign for a service dog.”

Over the next few months, Breitner trained Frisco, who lived with a breeder. By April 2013, Frisco was ready to begin life in his new home. Marlene said she was worried at first that having both a dog and children in the house would be too chaotic, but Frisco soon proved to be an uplifting and well-behaved member of the family.

“It’s like having a little friend. It’s like mental comfort,” said Marlene, who explained Frisco wears a service dog jacket that allows him to go everywhere with her, including medical facilities. “Wherever I go, he just comes with me. … He keeps me company, and he’s just very easy.” 

“I want to raise money to help more people. I hope it’ll make them feel happy.” — Alex Michaels

When it came time to begin his mitzvah project, Alex had a plan. He called his fundraising campaign “Pi for Pets”  (youcaring.com/piforpets) because, as he writes on his campaign page: “my birthday is 3.14, I love my Frisco to infinity and WHO DOESN’T LOVE PIE!!!!!”

Randy said the family has already identified one person in need and is working with the cancer treatment center City of Hope in Duarte to find others. He said the full cost of training a service dog can range between $5,000 and $10,000, so it won’t be possible to pay the full amount, but Alex plans to help offset about $750 for each family, depending on need. 

Breitner said she was impressed when Alex first talked about doing the project, which she said he did soon after his family got Frisco.

“I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what an incredible thing for an 11-year-old to think about doing,’ ” she said. “I think it’s awesome; I think it’s incredible. It’s a testament to the family in how they’ve raised this little munchkin who’s turning into being a wonderful young man.”

Breitner said the definition of service dogs has expanded greatly since the days when they were used primarily as visual aids for the blind. Today, service dogs are used to help people who have various disabilities, and they can perform tasks such as helping people open doors, pick things up, press buttons and carry groceries. Therapy dogs, which are different from service dogs, provide comfort and cheer to people with cancer and other illnesses, she said. Frisco is trained as both a therapy and a service dog, although he is being used as a therapy dog.

Randy said his family is excited to introduce more families to the benefits of having a well-trained service or therapy dog.

“I don’t think we ever imagined [Frisco] would make as much of an impact as he has on our lives,” he said. “It’s just really important for us to raise awareness for service animals to be trained properly and matched up with the right family.”

Emergency transport for pets in Israel


When Gaza rockets were raining down on southern and parts of central Israel in November, the staff at Terminal4Pets — located outside of firing range in Maccabim-Reut — told its clients that it would work out the logistics of boarding or evacuating their pets if they suddenly had to leave the country.

The eight-year-old pet travel agency, which shares a building with the clinic that spawned it, the House of Veterinary Doctors, is an Israel-based initiative that enables international travelers, including relocated diplomats and expatriates anywhere in the world, to transport their pets with the minimum amount of trauma to animal and owner.

At the start of the hostilities, Dr. Eytan Kreiner, the veterinarian who heads Terminal4Pets, wrote in a press release: “We understand that people are under a lot of stress and especially foreign diplomats and their families, and we wish to help them any way possible.” He urged people to spread the word that “we are here 24/7 for people and pets during these rough times.” That time, most clients stayed put.

While the agency has helped many owners during times of national or personal emergency, its specialty is providing logistical support for the types of “routine” pet transfers that keep many pet owners up at night worrying.

An airplane flight “is very traumatic for the pet and the owner, whether it’s a diplomat or a student spending a year abroad,” said Ayala Bar, the agency’s head of marketing.

Just as a traditional travel agent advises clients on whether they need a visa or vaccinations, Terminal4Pets helps owners navigate the bureaucratic and complicated process of pet flight and beyond.

When people transfer to another country with a cat or dog, Bar explained, they don’t necessarily know where the nearest clinic is or, as is the case in Israel, they need to register their animal’s microchip information with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The agency, which collaborates with professionals around the world when necessary, advises owners on which vaccinations are required and which ones are advisable, even if not mandatory.

“Their local vet doesn’t understand how difficult it will be for a dog that’s been based in Lapland to adjust here,” Bar said.

Whenever possible, the agency works with pet owners long before the flight.  

“We’ll have a long telephone conversation and ask a lot of details: the [dog’s] breed, its weight, its exact measurements and, especially if it’s a puppy, its kennel size, because the airlines are very strict,” Bar said.

The kennel (in-flight holder) must be large enough to accommodate a pet’s limited movement and include a pet diaper and a blanket.

Because the agency is connected with the clinic downstairs, a newly transferred pet can be assessed as soon as it arrives, if the owner requests it, Bar said.

Although the agency doesn’t board animals, it contracts with two companies that do. That’s especially important for owners who are in a country for a limited amount of time and have no one who can care for their animal for a few days or months at a time.

“Expats and diplomats often don’t have a support system,” Bar said. “Whereas other pet owners might ask their mother to mind their dog for a while, foreigners don’t have that option.”

Sometimes locals need help, too.

When Ziva Ben Shaul’s son, Micki, died suddenly in Florida, she wanted to adopt his cat, Mario. She contacted the agency, which in turn told Micki’s friends what vaccinations and documents the cat would need to fly to Israel.

Today, “Mario is with me,” Ben Shaul said. “His hind legs are paralyzed, but that doesn’t matter. Micki really loved Mario, and it does me good that he’s here with me.” 

Paws of Love: Fur healing’s sake


Ari Gould, 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia three years ago. In addition to the physical pain he has endured, the disease and the stressful medical procedures that followed have also left him socially isolated.

The steroid treatments he receives once a month have numerous unpleasant side effects, including increases in anxiety levels.

“When he is on steroids he feels really bad,” said Alissa Gould, Ari’s mother.

During those times she arranges for Ari to visit with Ziggy, a friend he made back in April.

“When Ziggy comes, it totally calms him down and is a great distraction,” Gould said.

Only Ziggy isn’t a boy; he’s a golden retriever whom Ari met through Paws of Love.

Started in 2011, Paws of Love is a volunteer-based project of Chai Lifeline that provides seriously ill children with canine companions from Lend a Paw, a pet therapy agency whose teams of handlers and dogs have been through a rigorous training program. The therapy dogs and their trainers help lift the spirits of chronically ill children and fill the social void that often occurs when a child gets sick.

“When someone is hit with an illness out of the blue, the shock and the terror that strikes a family is overwhelming, especially for a pediatric illness,” said Gila Sacks, coordinator for Paws of Love.

First introduced by Boris Levinson in the 1960s, animal-assisted therapy has grown from fewer than 20 programs in the 1980s to more than 1,000 such programs today. Therapy applications include helping children practice reading, assisting with physical therapy, and providing emotional support to senior citizens and war veterans, among others.

Aubrey Fine, author of the textbook, “Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy,” says that while there is little evidence-based research to confirm the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy, that’s beside the point. “There is a lot of qualitative support out there to say that animal-assisted therapies have value,” he said.

Some evidence is beginning to emerge that dogs can help people with cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure in both the human and the dog may be reduced when the person pets the animal, according to Fine, and people who walk their dogs are less likely to have chronic health problems.

Levels of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that promotes good feelings, also change in humans and animals when the animal is being petted. And when it comes to the emotional benefits of animal-assisted therapies for children, Fine said, “The animal seems to go under a child’s conscious defense mechanism.”

Sharon Vincuilla, director of Lend a Paw, says she regularly sees the positive effects of animal-assisted therapy. “There was a woman at one facility who never talked, but she would talk to the dogs,” she said. 

One Chai Lifeline family, Sacks noted, has noticed significant improvement in their children’s communication skills after several sessions of pet therapy.

In addition to Paws of Love, Chai Lifeline offers a wide range of services for all members of a family fighting a childhood illness. Programs include individual and family counseling, telephone support groups, art therapy for patients and siblings, tutoring, help with medical insurance, referrals to specialists and therapists, big brothers and big sisters mentoring, and retreats for parents. All of Chai Lifeline’s services are free, funded by private donations and grants.

Chai Lifeline has “helped us a lot with food and keeping the Sabbath. They have helped with activities Ari could do that were very sanitary and geared toward his age,” Gould said. “They also have programs to help the moms … relax without the kids, to give them some free time. And they are very good with the children.”

During a July visit, Ari ran out to meet Ziggy, despite feeling ill from his steroids.

Ziggy’s handler, Jody Rudy, said she met Ziggy while walking dogs for a golden retriever rescue organization. She says she quickly noticed he was meant to be a therapy dog.

“It was not so much about me, but about my dog. The thing about Ziggy is that when someone is nervous or having a hard time, Ziggy will pick that person out of a crowd and sit next to them. I saw this in him, and so I wanted to use him to benefit other people.”

Rudy wanted to make sure she was not forcing Ziggy into a job that was against his nature, so she barely trained him at all before the therapy dog exam. “I read what he was supposed to do … and I made the determination that if he was ready to be a therapy dog, he would pass that test. … And he did. It was really easy for him to do it.”

Rudy chose New Leash on Life to get Ziggy certified for therapy, because they make a point of choosing shelter dogs to be trained for therapy.

Although he was too tired to play outside, Ari gave Ziggy his full attention for most of the visit, petting him while telling his visitors about his recent experience at summer camp.

“Ari just lights up when he sees Ziggy,” Rudy said.

For more information about Paws of Love, call (310) 274-6331 or visit chailifeline.org.

Saving Golani: An Israeli puppy’s journey from Jerusalem to Houston


A puppy born in Israel and abandoned in the streets of Jerusalem has completed his unlikely journey to a new home and new life in Houston, Texas: the final stop on a trek that began beneath the wheels of a tour bus that was parked in front of the hotel where Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle (R-Houston) and the tour group she and her husband brought to Israel were staying.

The dog’s cheerful welcome by Riddle and friends who first met the puppy in Israel culminated in an unlikely series of events that began before the Riddles even departed for their trip. The couple had debated whether Israel would be the right place to find the rescue dog they had been looking for, but without success. Riddle vividly recalls the reaction of husband Mike, a Houston estate attorney, who thought he had settled the matter with his unqualified declaration, “No, no, no. We are not going to do that.”

Looking back, though, Debbie – attractive and petit, but a determined and experienced politician now in her fifth legislative session at Austin – insists with a knowing grin that she didn’t go against her husband’s wishes at all because, “We didn’t really find him—he found us.”

An animal lover and horse breeder, Mike didn’t really stand a chance. The puppy was cowering beneath the wheels of the tour bus after being ejected from its mother’s owner’s home. “He was abandoned on the streets right in front of the hotel and he was going to die because he was under the bus. There were a lot of tour buses around and he would have been squished,” Debbie recalls. Besides, she adds, “He immediately took to me.”
Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are abandoned each year on the streets of Jerusalem alone. A fortunate handful are adopted by foreign residents willing to go through the time and expense of enlisting organizations that handle the bureaucratic red tape involved in relocating animals – details far more complicated than having the animal vaccinated and brought on-board someone’s flight home.

Dr. Eytan Kreiner, CEO of Terminals4Pets, the veterinarian who handled Golani’s arrangements, told The Media Line that “the first thing to be done after determining that the animal is in good health is to determine what regulations in Israel and in the destination country apply.” In the Riddles’ case, even though, as Dr. Kreiner said, “you could see from the first moment…that he’s physically in good shape…he’s happy… the only thing he wants is attention, attention, to be around people,” it would be a month of vaccinations and examinations along with a trip to the Agriculture Ministry, before Golani would reach Houston.

“To fly a cat or dog from Israel to any place in the world can vary from $500 to about $1500 or more depending on length of time the animal needs to spend in Israel, vaccinations, crating, security, Customs and transportation,” according to Kreiner.

As foreigners transporting rescued animals to their home abroad, the Riddles are not alone. It’s not unusual for visitors to rescue one or more of the hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats abandoned in Israel and ship them home for a new life.  Paula Nelson of West Virginia told The Media Line that over the past four years she has flown seven cats home, three of which have become pets for her two daughters. Nelson says, “People are crazy” and attributes the obsession with Israel’s strays as “Jerusalem fever.” Yet, she says that she and her husband, Carl, “have very tender hearts.” They spend about $3,500 annually just to feed the twelve cats, three dogs and a rabbit that live with them on their one-acre plot. But she discourages anyone from bringing back a pet they’re not willing to “take care of for life.”

According to Nelson, “you do it because you love the animal, not because it’s from Israel,” but Debbie Riddle disagrees. For her, that Golani was born in Israel was an important element in her decision to take him home, which is evident in her selection of a name for the dog. In fact, Golani’s breed is mostly Canaani, a breed indigenous to Israel and renowned for it’s prowess as a rescuer. Since part of the dog’s role with the Riddle family will relate to personal protection, Debbie wanted a “tough” name. She named her puppy in tribute to one of the Israel Defense Force’s elite infantry brigades, explaining that, “because he’s going to be a family pet, a member of the family, and also a protector, I felt like the name “Golani” fit him very well. He is very handsome and terribly lovable. He has the instinct to protect but is lovable.”

Deborah Taylor was on a Trinity Church trip to Israel when she found two kittens near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount – the spot holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Afraid one would be trampled, she scooped up the kitten and placed it in her pocket book. Her taxi driver led her to Dr. Kreiner to whom she paid $100 per kitten to insure placement off the streets. With two dogs and a cat back home, “my husband didn’t want me to bring more animals home.”

Chaya Beili, who manages the shelter at the, The Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSCPA) where currently 200 dogs and about 200 cats are currently boarded, attests to the overabundance of stray animals on the streets of the Israeli capital. She told The Media Line, “We advise leaving cats on the streets as long as they are spade. What’s the point of moving them to an environment they can’t handle? Dogs are a different story. Legally they can’t live on the streets in Israel, and practically it’s more difficult for them.” Chaya receives twenty calls monthly and can’t accommodate many of them.

“I just got a call from someone who found a puppy by the Qalandiya checkpoint [separating Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah]. There’s no city responsible at the checkpoint. These puppies are usually strays belonging to Arab villages where spraying and neutering is banned and dog food is barely heard of. We have at least 100 of these Canaani dogs.”

Israel is not the exclusive birthplace of animals America-bound. “In both Afghanistan and Iraq, American soldiers bond with street dogs and go to all measures to bring these animals home”, according to Kelley O’Meara, director of companion animals and engagement at the Humane Society International. According to O’Meara, “Local groups are essential in expediting this complex process which in the case of Afghanistan can cost between three to four thousand dollars [per animal].”

Thirty-five days after their fortuitous meeting alongside the tour bus in front of the Olive Tree Hotel, Golani was brought to the cargo terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport where Dr. Kreiner cleared the final red tape and the dog, now grown to a robust six and a half pounds, was placed aboard a lighted, pressurized area of a United-Continental Boeing 777 jet for his flight to Houston with a Newark stopover for custom clearance. 
Meanwhile, back in Houston, inhabitants – human and otherwise – of the Riddle’s 16-acre horse farm anxiously awaited Golani’s arrival. At Houston’s George Bush International Airport, Golani was greeted by Debbie Riddle and some members of her tour group who had witnessed her fateful and dramatic meeting on a Jerusalem street. It didn’t matter whether Golani recognized Rep. Riddle because he remembered her or he became familiar with the scent of the Riddles’ socks left in the dog’s crate. An onlooker would be hard-pressed to deny a bond already existed between owner and pet.

“He ended up the birthday present I wished for,” an emotional Debbie Riddle told The Media Line by phone after arriving home with Golani.  “And Golani’s got duel citizenship: Israeli and Texan.”

This article originally appeared at The Media Line Ltd.

Rabbi Freehling’s pet project


Daylong synagogue attendance is rare among most Reform Jews. It’s even rarer for their dogs.

For almost 12 years, Lucy traveled each day to University Synagogue in Brentwood with her owner, Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, then the synagogue’s senior rabbi. The golden retriever mix soon became one of the most popular members of the Reform congregation.

“The kids coming in for Hebrew school used to arrive early, come to the rabbi’s study, and hope that they would be the ones to take Lucy for a walk before going to class,” Freehling recalled. “She was delighted to spend the whole day in my office. If there wasn’t someone to pay attention to her, she would usually just sleep under my desk.”

Freehling, now the executive director of the City’s Human Relations Commission, found Lucy at a city-run animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley. Through a series of community workshops he is helping to facilitate for Los Angeles Animal Services, Freehling is urging other local residents to seek pets from city shelters, too.

L.A. Animal Services has been sponsoring its “Humane L.A.” workshops — a series of 11 free, public panel discussions — every other week since August to educate Angelenos about what they can do to help make the city a “no-kill” haven. The workshops, which will continue through mid-December, focus on different facets of the agency’s “no-kill equation,” such as low-cost spay and neuter, rescue groups, foster care and adoption programs. Common-sense factors like these, the agency believes, can, in time, reduce the number of unwanted animals euthanized at city shelters.

“We do have a responsibility in terms of taking good care of the animals that are a part of our population,” said Freehling, who is sharing the role of facilitator with three other members of the Human Relations Commission. “Spay and neuter has to become something that is accepted by everyone, because the only way to curtail the population of animals is if they are not reproducing on a regular basis. For people who wish to have animals, for them to consider adopting as opposed to purchasing would also be a step.”

The senior rabbi at University Synagogue for 30 years, Freehling and his wife, Lori, adopted Lucy with social interaction in mind.

“Not wanting to leave Lucy home by herself, we purposely found an animal that would be good with adults and children,” he said. “An animal is a marvelous provider of comfort. That was the role that she played at the synagogue. Being greeted by her was, more often than not, a comforting experience.”

Lucy eventually died of cancer, and the Freehlings adopted Pearl, a black lab and pit bull mix, from an animal rescuer in Riverside. Pearl hasn’t had the same opportunity to follow Freehling to work since he was appointed to the commission in 2002.

“Here at City Hall it’s less likely that someone would bring an animal to the office on a regular basis,” he said.

Asked if it’s possible to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, the Chicago native does not hesitate before saying, “Yes.” But profound changes must first occur in the local population’s attitude toward its four-legged neighbors.

“I hope people will begin to understand what a no-kill city is all about and what our responsibilities are as part of that community, and not simply leave it up to a particular department within the city to solve the problem by euthanizing an extraordinary number of animals,” Freehling said. “It’s something we’re all in together.”

For dates and locations of the remaining “Humane L.A.” workshops, visit

Pets left behind in the North are focus of Israeli volunteers


YOKNE’AM, Israel, Aug. 15 (JTA) — When tens of thousands of Israelis fled their homes as Hezbollah rockets began raining down on northern Israel, they left behind not only hastily locked-up houses but, in many cases, their pets.

After days and weeks of being left to fend for themselves, many of the animals were found starving and dehydrated in the streets of northern towns and cities. Estimates put the number of animals in distress at about 8,000.

Three dogs were killed after a rocket hit the house in Kiryat Shmona where their owner had tied them up and left them. Some dogs were found wounded, their bodies riddled with shrapnel. Many others, terrified by the sound of rocket fire and artillery blasts, fled their homes and began living on the streets.

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The first night, instead of finding cats to feed in the town of Ma’alot, volunteers were overwhelmed by the stench of death: Many cats already had died.

Since that night, Vardi and his volunteers rescued countless animals by putting out food and water and finding foster homes for others. Many of the cats were street cats that had lived off residents’ handouts and garbage.

With the locals no longer there, their situation turned desperate, Vardi said.

Vardi tells the story of two large, emaciated dogs his team found during one of their night rescue tours.

Their owner had left food and water for a few days, but had chained the dogs on leashes s” TARGET=”_blank”>www.chai-online.org, or can be mailed to Hakol Chai, POB 51858, Tel Aviv 67214, or in the U.S., to CHAI, POB 3341, Alexandria, VA 22302, USA.

Photos courtesy Hakol Chai.

Travel Briefs


Music Festival Celebrates Jewish New Orleans

Hot on the heels of Mardi Gras, a recovering Big Easy will soon play host to the inaugural New Orleans International Jewish Music Festival. The two-day gathering on April 1-2 will celebrate the rebuilding of Jewish New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Featured artists include The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Blue Fringe, Neshama Carlebach, Moshav Band, Sam Glaser, RebbeSoul, Theresa Andersson, Yom Hadash and Voices of Israel. U.S. artists will kick off the April 1 concert at The Howlin’ Wolf with a Havdallah service, while the April 2 show at Tulane University will feature a mix of U.S. and international acts. Sponsors include the Hiddur Mitzvah Project, Moment Magazine and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

For more information, visit www.hiddurmitzvah.org or call (504) 780-5612.

Kosher Signs for Israeli McDonald’s

Two branches of McDonald’s in Israel are getting new signs so prospective customers know those outlets are kosher. Under an initiative championed by the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Meir Lau, the two branches of the fast-food chain in the city that have rabbinical certification are getting new Hebrew-language signs with “kosher” clearly marked in the national colors of blue and white.

“I feared that tourists or youths from outside Tel Aviv would come for a visit, eat at a kosher branch and assume that all of the McDonald’s branches in Israel are kosher,” Lau was quoted saying in Yediot Achronot last week.

The remainder of the some 100 branches in Israel retain the distinctive white, yellow and red signs in English.

Arab Airline Slams Israel Deal With Soccer Team

An Arab country’s national airline criticized the decision of a British soccer team it sponsors to promote Israeli tourism. Emirates Airlines, which pays $5.2 million for the naming rights to Arsenal’s new stadium, and whose logo appears on team jerseys, censured the $600,000 deal, which will go into effect for the 2006-2007 season, with an option to renew for another year. Israel will be promoted on LCD billboards in Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in London, on banner ads on the team’s Web site and in its official magazine, where the Jewish state will be billed as Arsenal’s “official and exclusive travel destination.”

The club said it cleared the deal with UAE officials, but a spokesman for the national carrier denied this, calling the deal “unfortunate,” and adding that the company will “do our best to persuade Arsenal not to renew its deal with Israel.”

Israeli Tourism Ministry officials said the ads will “broaden Israel’s appeal to sun and fun-seekers,” and hope they will bring an added 2 million tourists to the country.

Mubarak Woos Israeli Tourists

Egypt’s president reportedly called on Israeli tourists avoiding his country to reconsider their plans. Yediot Achronot quoted a letter sent recently by Hosni Mubarak to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, in which he pledged that security at Sinai resorts was satisfactory.

“The Israelis have nothing to worry about,” Mubarak wrote. “We want to promote tourism and are doing everything to protect tourists.”

Israelis, who long flocked to Sinai, largely have avoided it since a series of Islamist suicide bombings killed dozens of vacationers there in 2004. In the past few years, Israel repeatedly has issued advisories against its citizens visiting neighboring Arab countries. Some Israelis believe they’re not truly welcome in Egypt, despite the 27-year-old peace accord between the countries.

Yediot quoted Mubarak as adding in his letter, “We will never return to the path of war. This is our strategic decision, and we will keep with it.”

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately confirm the report.

Dublin Opens a Jewish House

The Dublin Jewish community opened a house with kosher facilities for students and young professionals. Located in a former Jewish retirement home near the core of Dublin’s Jewish population on the city’s south side, the house is open to any Jews living in, working in or visiting Dublin. In addition to providing living space for observant Jews in a city with limited kosher facilities, the house is intended as a place for social contact between the Irish Jewish community and the growing number of Jews who have moved to Ireland for work or study, according to Rabbi Zalman Lent, Dublin’s Chabad rabbi, who spearheaded the project with his wife, Rifky. The house’s eight residents celebrated their first Shabbat there on Feb. 24.

Passport for Jet-Setting Pets

Looking for the purrrfect way to keep your pet’s trip to Israel from being a ruff one? El Al has introduced the “Pet Passport,” a single document for pet owners that contains medical and vaccination information, dietary and grooming instructions, space for a photo and personality details, and even a travel diary for your dog or cat. The passport, created by Pocket Reference Journals, follows the 2001 launch of El Al’s Points for Pets, a frequent-flyer program so your furry friend can earns points toward future travel on the Israeli airline.

To receive a complimentary copy of the passport, call (212) 852-0628.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Journal staff and Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

The Circuit


‘Ruffing’ It

Poochies in Guccis? It was all about what the well-dressed doggy will wear as the Animal Alliance, in cooperation with Animal Fair Media, held its sixth annual Paws for Style at Loew’s Beverly Hills Hotel. Only one catfight erupted behind the scenes in what was otherwise a “purrfectly” pleasing event. Humans nibbled on hors d’ouvres and desserts and pooches dined out of silver dishes.

Celebs were in attendance to support their favorite animals, including Hugh Hefner, who has long been the leading advocate for bunnies.

Paula Abdul led her trio of dogs across the runway sporting Jackrocketwear as the more social of the canine contingency showed off their Playboy doggy duds.

Jeanne Buss and her dog, Princess, paraded the latest in Laker wear and courtside couture. Also featured were designers Diane Von Furstenberg, Donald Pliner, Nicole Miller, Theory among others.

Although the evening was a fun romp, the Animal Alliance takes their job of caring for and rescuing animals very seriously and does great work.

To learn more about the fashions or the funding for Animal Alliance, call (310) 859-7626.

Good for Gady

Dr. Gady Levy was selected as one of only three Americans among an elite field of 37 young, Jewish professionals around the world for a prestigious Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.

The fellowship is a summer institute aimed at nurturing a new generation of Jewish communal leadership. The program provides an intensive experience of Jewish learning, living and leadership for Jews under the age of 40 who demonstrate the potential to make a change in their communities. The conference will take place in Sweden from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.

Levy has led the department of continuing education at the University of Judaism for five years serving as vice president.

For more information about the University of Judaism or the department of continuing education, visit www.uj.edu or call (310) 476-9777.

Health and Wellness

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism, was appointed by the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to convene a Human Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee. This committee has been charged with developing minimum standards for institutional review boards to use in reviewing and approving human embryonic stem cell research projects. The committee will begin meeting in August.

In spring 1993, Dorff served on the Ethics Committee of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Health Care Task Force. In March 1997 and May 1999, he testified on the subjects of human cloning and stem cell research before the President’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission. From 2000 to 2002 he served on the National Human Resources Protections Advisory Commission, charged with reviewing and revising the federal guidelines for protecting human subjects in research projects. He is currently working on a project on Judaism and genetics for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he is a member of that organization’s Dialogue on Science Ethics, and Religion Advisory Committee.

Dorff teaches a course on Jewish law at UCLA School of Law as a visiting professor and was awarded the Journal of Law and Religion’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is vice chair of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

A Sweet Time

Smiles were abundant last week as Vista Del Mar sponsored a screening of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. More than 900 adults and kids downed chocolate and sweets and with endorphins flowing, ate up every moment of the new Johnny Depp flick and raised $122,000 for Vista Del Mar.

Proceeds from the event will help support Vista Del Mar’s residential treatment facility, private adoption agency, foster-care program, nonpublic school and its four affiliated divisions: Family Service of Santa Monica; Home-SAFE; Julia Ann Singer Center; and Reiss-Davis Child Study Center.

Each year, Vista’s programs and services provide a safe haven for more than 5,000 children from throughout the Los Angeles area whose lives have been interrupted by abuse, neglect or abandonment.

Hero in the Sky

A celebration of life event was held recently to honor the late Robert Maguire Jr. Maguire Jr. was the chief pilot of the covert mission “Operation Magic Carpet,” which saved 40,000-50,000 Yemenite Jews from persecution and danger after World War II by secretly flying them to Israel over hostile territories. Maguire’s father, Robert Francis Sr., was a judge at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Wishes Come True

As part of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary weekend celebration July 15-17, the Disney Cruise Line made a wish come true and kept the Disney Magic cruise ship at the Port of San Pedro one additional night as it hosted “An Evening of Magic” to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Visiting a Disney theme park is the No. 1 request the 25-year-old organization, which fulfills the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, receives.

The July 16 event kicked off with a sunset ceremony, where outgoing Disney CEO Michael Eisner presented a $1.04 million check to Make-A-Wish Foundation of America President and CEO David Williams.

“As the foundation’s largest sponsor, Disney is proud to [play a role] in this extraordinary organization,” Eisner said. “Disneyland knows a thing or two about granting wishes.”

Then Disney CEO-elect Bob Iger surprised Williams when Minnie Mouse came to the stage with a surprise second check-for another $1 million.

“A wish is very simple idea,” Williams said. “The impact it has on a child and the family is absolutely profound.”

“At the end of the day, it is all about the kids,” Jeff Germain, chairman of the board of Make-a-Wish, who has been with the organization for four years, told The Journal. “It’s not just what’s in the eyes of the children; it is in the eyes of their families — the look in their eyes and the impact it has on them is immeasurable. It helps them get healthier.”

“I Wish to Have A Dance Party” came alive in Rockin’ Bar D where pictures of “fulfilled wishes” flashed on the screen and the Radio Disney street team kept the preteens busy prior to the arrival of “That’s So Raven” star Raven Simone, who has helped grant more than 30 wishes. When the actress-singer arrived, she had a friend with her — 12-year-old Ashley Gullap, whose wish was to meet Raven and attend a red carpet with her. Ashley and Raven took the stage, meeting fans and signing autographs.

After teaching the crowd how to dance the “Cotton Eye Joe” during the dance party, 14-year-old Travis Flores, whose wish was to be an author, autographed his book, “The Spider Who Never Gave Up,” in the Oceaneer Club.

The evening ended on a truly magical note under the stars at the Goofy Pool stage when “American Idol”‘s Kimberly Locke and Peabo Bryson sang “Wishes” off the compilation CD of the same name ($5 of every CD sale goes to Make-a-Wish). After which, the two sang “A Whole New World” and were joined on stage by an assortment of Disney characters who hugged each Make-a-Wish child.

At the end of the night, the only wish that hadn’t come true was the one everyone had of being able to stay on the ship just a bit longer.

For more information on Make-a-Wish, visit www.wish.org. — Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer

Net Gains

Hustle over to the UCLA Tennis Center to catch rising Jewish stars at the Mercedes-Benz Cup. This year’s line-up features top world players-with more than the usual amount of Jewish stars among them. Paul Goldstein, 29, a wildcard entry from San Francisco, has battled his way into another round, aiming to beat his career high ranking of 69. Israeli Amir Hadad will also fight for advancement into the quarters, while Playa del Rey wunderkind Zack Fleishman, a promising up-and-comer, will also compete. Rounding out the field are top Israeli doubles team of Yoni Erlich and Andy Ram. Last year the team made it all the way to the finals, and wowed spectators with their intensity and perseverance. This year, who knows, they could go all the way.

For tickets and information, www.mercedes-benzcup.com.

 

Citizen Canine


Stephanie Poretz brings Sasha, her 13-year-old cockerspaniel, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center twice a week. Mark Ferber comes in withhis beagle Miss Daisy. Beverly Byer brings down Brailley, her black lab who wasrejected from guide dog school because of her bad hips.

Since 1995, Jewish professionals have participated theirpets in POOCH, an acronym for Pets Offering Ongoing Care and Healing. TheCedars-Sinai program allows affectionate dogs to spend time cheering up sickand terminally ill patients.

“It’s very healing having a dog give you unconditionallove,” said Barbara Cowen, who coordinates POOCH with Sandra Colson and Terri Lukomski.”When the dog comes into the room, there’s a lot of physical and emotionalbenefits. It’s really healing for everybody involved, including the staff.”

Originally launched in Cedars-Sinai’s AIDS unit, POOCH nowfans out its four-legged friends to the cardiology and pediatric wards and the Thalians Mental Health Center. The dogs undergo an extensive screening process, and specialcare goes into making sure that the canines do not harbor germs.

“Dogs are bathed 24 hours before they come,” Cowen said,”and they have stool sample checks twice a year.”

For two years, Meagan Panzer has brought down Cosmo, her7-year-old Bijon.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful program,” Panzer said. “Youbecome an instant friend of whomever it is you’re introduced to. You’re nottalking about the illness, you’re bonding with them over dogs.”

She recalls one time when “a woman saw me in the hallway andbegged me to see her father in the Intensive Care Unit. He had had a terriblenight. They couldn’t calm him down. The minute he saw Cosmo, you saw his wholebody relax. He fell asleep with my dog [sleeping] in his arms. The familycouldn’t have thanked me more.”

Cosmo loves his tikkun olam work. But even for the dogs, theexperience can be emotionally draining.

“He’s actually exhausted afterward,” Panzer said. “Cosmocomes home and takes a really long nap.”

To learn more about POOCH, contact Barbara Cowen at (310)423-2749.

Kibbitz


Summertime means baseball, barbecues and kosher dogs. Not the pups you throw on the grill, the ones you take for a walk. That’s right — man’s best friend is eating man’s best food. KosherPets, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based pet food company, offers up “kosher-style” pet chow for your Jewish cats and dogs.

When did Fido turn frum? Martine Lacombe and Marc Michaels began cooking for their Dalmatian, Lola, in 1998, when traditional veterinary medicine failed to cure her skin ailment. “We lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and always bought kosher meat,” Michaels said. “So we made Lola’s meals from Empire Chicken, rice, carrots and garlic, and followed kashrut rules while cooking it,” added the proud pet owner.

Lola healed quickly and shared her beauty secret with her dog park pals. The other dogs’ owners, who wintered in Florida and summered in New York, brought the “pet grub like bubbie used to make” to the left coast and caused a KosherPets Diaspora. “Our heads were spinning,” Michaels said. “The food took off and suddenly, we were shipping mason jars filled with kosher dog stew across the country,” he added.

Though neither Lacombe nor Michaels is Jewish, they are happy to serve the community and have immersed themselves in kosher culture. “We attend Kosherfest (the country’s largest kosher trade show), have met with rabbis from multiple certification agencies, and had our facility inspected by Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC),” Michaels said.

KosherPets’ products never come in contact with dairy or dairy derivatives, are made chametz-free for Pesach (they received a CRC Passover-use endorsement), and are always prepared with meat from kosher species. (It is not necessary to have the meat certified by a mashgiach because it’s not for human consumption.)

Though they currently only sell beef-based patties, KosherPets is developing chicken-, turkey- and salmon-based recipes. And the chefs will soon be cooking for more than cats and canines. “We’ve received e-mails from so many different pet owners, that we’ll soon sell kosher bird, hamster, rabbit and even guinea pig food.” Michaels said.

If only KosherPets had been around to help out Noah on
his ark. For more information on KosherPets, visit