Monday, November 29, 2010

Survivor Aaron Bembaron Launches Pet Sitting Business in Time for the Holidays

From left: Baxter, Aaron Bembaron and Lara.

Lara, like all dogs, is a great judge of character. About three weeks ago I was on Dog Beach with my three pups and for a split second lost track of her. I quickly turned around and saw her being cuddled by a lovely lady, Lauri Bembaron. Her husband, Aaron, was standing behind her smiling at the two. We started laughing, and conversation became easy with the backdrop of a breathtaking sunset.

Aaron mentioned that he was starting a dog walking and pet sitting business after a difficult period that included bankruptcy and losing the family home. These events paled in comparison to the anguish they experienced when his beloved golden retriever, Bear, was diagnosed with a rare cancer last May, followed by Aaron receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer in June. Sadly, Bear passed away. Aaron's physician noted that the spot on his lung was small and suggested a "wait and see" approach to determine if it might be a benign nodule.

Aaron and Lauri were working in the field of mortgage lending at the time, and the stress was getting to Aaron.

"Lauri asked me, 'What makes you happy,?'" he remembers. "I said, 'Animals -- they just love you.'"

Lauri suggested they downsize and move into an apartment so they could live on her salary. They also agreed that Aaron needed another canine friend to fill the void left by Bear who was a present from Lauri on the first Father's Day following their marriage.

In September, a puppy named Baxter came into their lives.

"Baxter brought back the meaningful relationship that I had with Bear," Aaron said. "He makes me feel whole, plugged in to another source of love which is so crucial."

The search for Baxter also inspired a career change.

"I had been going to the Carlsbad shelter and knew I wanted to work with animals," Aaron said. "I got the idea to do dog walking. Clients are not only going to have someone take care of their pet, but love their pet as well."

Aaron is launching "Dog Gone Walking!" in time for the holiday season. Services also include pet sitting and house sitting. Of course, he is licensed and bonded. For more information call Aaron at (619) 988-0174 or email

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Talkin' Turkey

Following the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade at noon today, our friend AKC judge Mike Dougherty (pictured above, left) will be judging the Terrier group at the National Dog Show/Philadelphia Kennel Club. Two million viewers are expected to tune in to NBC for the fun. Mike and his lovely wife, Michelle, have been wonderful friends to Lara and me over the past 18 months and we wish them and all our other followers a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Lara, Barney, Ollie, Lucy and I will be having our godson, Devin (pictured above w/Lucy), and his mom, Laurie, over for a vegetarian dinner of Tofurkey and English Shepherd's pie using Meatless Meatballs from Trader Joe's. This may not be appealing to some, but when you have an opinionated cockatoo sitting across from you at the table, making Thanksgiving dinner conversation in English, somehow eating turkey loses its appeal.

Seriously, Devin, Laurie and I are vegetarians. Left to her own devices, Lucy would probably prefer a dinner of deep-fried turkey with all the fixins' followed by an espresso and a Cuban cigar. Have a great one!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Undercover Video: Lucky's Backstory

Lucky (see Nov. 12 post) is seen in this undercover video I received earlier today from Jill Gasparac about the 150 dogs seized from a hoarder this summer. Click on the photo below to view the video.

Jill is a freelance dog trainer in L.A. and a full-time angel who performs large-scale rescue of older dogs. She is pictured below, and in the video, wearing pink.

If, after viewing this, you want to help please contact Jill at Donations can be sent via Paypal to Please forward this to anyone who has ever loved a dog. As it says in the video, "The only mistake is the one from which we learn nothing."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rescue Exposes Terror at High-Kill Shelters

On Monday I set out to cover what I thought was a routine story about a female dog with puppies rescued from a shelter north of San Diego County. A local resident with a special interest in senior dogs had offered to foster what she was told was a 15-year-old female, only to learn later that the dog had just given birth in the shelter.

The foster mother agreed to take the puppies and the mama dog, who had been held as evidence in a court proceeding for three months. What she didn't understand was how the dog could be skin and bones while under the care of shelter workers. Later I was told that as a result of the mother being malnourished, four of her eight puppies died.

This dog, appropriately named "Lucky," is now healthy and safe. You can read Lucky's story here and get information about adopting her and the puppies. But this is only the beginning of the story.

As I made calls I learned that 500 dogs had been euthanized in one day at this shelter. Think about it. Five hundred dogs. Yes, the answer is spaying and neutering but what can we do about the adoptable dogs who are here? Anyone who says they love dogs should be angry and get up from off their hands and do something. This can be fostering, adopting or donating money to rescue groups who perform heroic work by pulling these animals from shelters and finding them temporary refuge. As a nation that views dogs as "man's best friend," there is no excuse in doing nothing.

Here are some worthy rescue groups:

Jill Gasparac, Animals, People & Environment Action (Jill works with shelters throughout S. California and was responsible for rescuing Lucky.)

Lisa Hamilton, Boxers & Birds Animal Rescue

The Dog Squad, Carlsbad

Animals Without Borders, San Diego

Friday, October 8, 2010

Best of Show: Lara's Friend, AKC Judge Mike Dougherty on TV This Sunday

One of the first people to sign up for Lara's team after being rescued was Mike Doughtery (pictured above, left) and his wife, Michelle, owners of the upscale Windsong Resort for Pets in Escondido. They have been very generous in spoiling Lara with extravagant beauty makeovers as The Biggest Loser: Canine.

In addition to owning the pet resort, Mike officiates at about 78 dog shows each year as an AKC judge. This Sunday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. he'll be appearing on San Diego's XETV Channel 6 (the CW) at the Oklahoma City Kennel Club Dog Show. Mike will be judging the Hound group at 2:10 p.m.

On Thanksgiving Day, Mike will be appearing at 12 p.m. on NBC TV, following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He will be judging the Terrier group at the National Dog Show/Philadelphia Kennel Club.

Mike learned about purebred dogs from his parents, Jack and Marion Dougherty, who built and opened Lemon Grove Kennels which became one of the three largest in San Diego, along with Mission Valley Kennels and Fon Jon Kennels. He acquired his first Whippet in 1963. By 1974 Mike was approved by the American Kennel Club for a limited handler's license, attaining all-breed status in 1977. While concentrating on handling he also bred and owned, with his family, Miniature Schnauzers, Smooth Fox Terriers, and Keeshonden, as well as Whippets. As a professional handler, he guided the careers of many top winning dogs, including Best in Show winning Whippets and Bichon Frise. His handling focused mainly on breeds in the Hound, Terrier, Non Sporting, and Toy Groups, but also included many breeds in the other three groups.

In 1985 Mike retired from professional handling to pursue a dog judging avocation. He is currently approved by the AKC to judge Best in Show, the Hound Group, the Terrier Group, Manchester Terriers (Toy), Bichon Frises, Boston Terriers, Dalmatians, French Bulldogs, Keeshonden, Lhasa Apsos, Poodles, and Tibetan Terriers, plus Miscellaneous Classes and Junior Showmanship. He has judged at shows across the nation such as Westminster(including the Hound Group in 2007), Montgomery County(including Best in Show in 2007), Westchester, Bucks County, Eastern, Ladies, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Hatboro, Devon, Old Dominion, Greenwich, Maryland, Detroit, Beverly Hills, Del Valle, Great Western Terrier, Sir Francis Drake, and Santa Barbara. His international judging assignments have taken him to Australia, Taiwan, Colombia, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Canada, and Mexico.

Mike and Michelle have been very kind to Lara in contributing to her rehabilitation and lavishing her with compliments.

The Windsong Pet Resort is located at
1412 Windsong Lane, Escondido. Phone: (760) 233-5060.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lara & Barney Reunite with Alison Hardison

This weekend Lara, Barney, Ollie and I met up with friends and their rescue pups at Dog Beach in Del Mar. We had the greatest surprise when Alison Hardison walked up to us. She saw Lara and Barney first and thought it was too much of a coincidence that an English lab and a St. B would be hanging out together.

Alison was their guardian angel who, through a rescue group, pulled them from the Carlsbad shelter last summer -- Lara in June and Barney in August. She also arranged for them to be spayed and neutered when the time came.

The lady who introduced me to Alison described her as an "angel" and she really is. She had 4-year-old daughter, Zahara, in tow and was pregnant with her other daughter, Asilah, when she extended herself to help Lara, Barney and scores of other distressed pups last summer. Today, Alison has some health issues that are causing her to slow down, so we're wishing her all the best. She's a favorite of ours. Here is a video of Lara and Barney playing in the surf over the weekend.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Joey: Front Page Feature Story, 1st Day of Class, Georgetown University Newspaper

Joey took a midnight train from (Jessop) Georgia the evening of Thurs., August 26 carrying three suitcases and three bags en route to his first year at Georgetown University. We talked a couple of times during the trip, in between a visit to the dining car and reading "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," required reading for incoming freshmen.

After arriving at Union Station around 7 a.m. ET, Joey made friends with a porter who gave him a ride to the terminal. Joey had time to grab a savory croissant at what he described as a posh restaurant and give me a call. Afterwards, he took a taxi to the front gate at GU where he was greeted by a representative from the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) who presented him with a gift bag chocked full of toiletries and other goodies and a bed set from Target. Joey called again after checking into his room, on the 8th floor of the dorm which boasted a panoramic view of the campus. "It couldn't get any better than this!" he told me, almost breathless. Since he was one of the first freshmen to arrive, he took a few minutes to chat with his new resident assistant. A short time later, she ran up to him and said, "Are you a singer?" He responded, "Yes, I am." She explained that a security guard recognized Joey and said to her, "Do you know who that is? That's Joey Pearson! I have his CDs!"

I called late that evening to say good night, and introduce myself to Patrick, Joey's new roommate and a fellow freshman from Connecticut. Patrick sounded like a great guy! He said he was an introvert himself, and was grateful that he was matched with Joey because it will make it easier for him to meet people. I said, "Oh, yeah! You will definitely meet a lot of people hanging out with Joey," and added that he hit the jackpot in the roommate department. Joey feels the same way about Patrick.

The photo above was taken after Joey set up his room. Note the traditional "Wall of Scarves" over his bed. I wonder if Joey will donate his scarf collection to the Smithsonian upon graduation in 2014!

You can follow Joey's adventures as a freshman at GU on his YouTube channel.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

EXCLUSIVE! Cbad Shelter Pup Now "Detective LuLu"

Before becoming San Diego County Medical Examiner in 2003 Dr. Glenn Wagner served as director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C. where he participated in some of the nation’s most historic crime scene investigations – from the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut to the crash of American Airlines flight 77 into the Pentagon on 9/11. Dr. Wagner presided over the recovered remains of the Challenger astronauts in both accidents. And he was part of an elite team selected to perform an autopsy on the President of the United States in the event of an assassination.

"When I was hired in San Diego, I was told they wanted me to take the department in new directions," Dr. Wagner said. Seven months ago his vision culminated in the opening of the state-of-the-art Medical Examiner & Forensics Center on Overland Ave.

A lifelong dog lover, part of his plan was to recruit a shelter dog to become ME Canine 2, the second cadaver dog in his department.

I was fortunate to land an exclusive interview with Dr. Wagner on the occasion of the debut of LuLu, ME Canine 2, a four-year-old German shepherd from the North Shelter in Carlsbad. This is the same shelter where Lara and Barney came from a year ago.

LuLu once again proves that

You can read LuLu's story in today's San Diego Union-Tribune.

You can watch LuLu on her first day of work on YouTube.

LuLu weighed in at 70 lbs. on the scales at the Medical Examiner's office her first day of work on Friday, July 9.

LuLu will join Theila, a bloodhound also known as ME Canine 1, for 18 months of training in air sniffing, tracking and trailing as a cadaver dog. Although dogs have been known to develop depression in this line of work, especially in extreme circumstances such as 9/11, Dr. Wagner has a reward system in place to hopefully prevent this. When LuLu is not at work, she can be found chasing gophers and playing with Cocoa Bean, Wagner's 10-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, on his four-acre property in Vista. Dr. Wagner's wife, Joan, is strengthening LuLu for her new job with home cooking and lots of TLC.

LuLu's biggest challenge will be keeping up with Wagner. At 64, he says his own work ethic will most likely keep him on the job until he passes himself.

" I believe life is a transition and that we are obligated to have a positive influence," he said. "When everything is said and done we have an appointment with death. At that time we will look back and see footprints and know they are our own and that we made a difference."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Joey Graduates, Leaves for the East Coast Today

3:30 p.m., Friday, June 18

7:30 a.m., Today

Time Flies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lara, The TV Star

If you missed it, you can click the photo above to view Lara's TV debut on KFMB-TV (CBS) in San Diego tonight.

Lara is cool as a cucumber as Barney, Ollie and Miss Lily watch the live shot at Viewpoint Park in Encinitas at 5:30 p.m.

Encinitas native Jeff Zevely, a (very, very) funny and gifted reporter, puts Lara at ease.

Joey stopped by after work to give Lara moral support.

Miss Lily is relieved that it is Lara in the spotlight this evening,
not her.

Packing up to leave, there's nothing like the satisfaction
of a job well done.

Time to go home for dinner.

Lara Gets Ready for Her Close Up

This is a big day for Lara as she films clips for her TV debut on San Diego's Channel 8 (KFMB) News, the CBS affiliate, which will air tomorrow. We were thrilled to learn that Encinitas native Jeff Zevely was doing the story. I first came to know Jeff when I covered Encinitas's State of the City banquet for The Coast News two months ago. He was a hilarious emcee who kept the event moving, and the audience laughing, all evening

Lara got ready for her close up at the Windsong Pet Resort in Escondido. Thanks again to owners Mike and Michelle Daugherty, and head groomer Jessica Lynch, for treating her like a star.

Click here for a behind-the-scenes preview from Joey.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Joey Receives Full Scholarship to Georgetown University

Before there was Lara, Barney and Ollie there was Joey.

We met 9 years ago this week as I was walking my two dogs, Truman and Henry, and carrying my umbrella cockatoo, Lucy. Joey was 9.

I heard a voice ask, "What is your bird's name?" and turned around to discover what looked to be a character
out of a Walt Disney movie -- a slightly built boy with rosy cheeks wearing a navy blue sweater and carrying a bouquet of flowers he said he had picked for his teacher.

The next day I saw Joey again, this time walking up my driveway inquiring if he could come in to my house and see the bird's cage.

When I asked to meet his parents, he explained that it was only him and his dad and that they lived with a family across the street.

Thus began a special friendship founded on a mutual affection for animals.

Shortly after that Joey took me on my first roller coaster ride at Knottsberry Farm, a prize for winning a fundraising competition sponsored by the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. We were a great team: I drove the car from strip malls to car dealerships as Joey jumped out and hustled the owners and store managers.

It wasn't just domesticated animals he loved. It was tarantulas, lizards and ferrets.

At one point he saved the day when I was distressed to discover a family of mice living under my refrigerator. After catching and releasing the adults in the park, Joey fashioned a home for the baby in a plexiglas cage, complete with exercise equipment, that we bought at PetSmart. After beefing up the wee mouse, Joey proudly released him in the park to join his relatives who we were sure were waiting.

In April 2002 Joey delivered the most eloquent speech of his young career. It was to the Encinitas City Council advocating for a measure that would ban circuses, rides and and other for-profit animal acts in the city. It passed. Afterwards a councilman who opposed the ban approached Joey to shake his hand. "I'm sure glad you're only 10," he said. "Otherwise I would be afraid of losing my seat in the next election."

Well, that councilman is still in office and his grace period could be coming to an end as Joey, now 18, contemplates a career in international relations, maybe even politics.

The sky's the limit now that he has been accepted to the distinguished Foreign Service School at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the alma mater of leaders including President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

What's more, Joey received a full scholarship valued at more than $225,000.

His response?

"Now I really will be able to make a difference in the world."

I was honored to be Joey's guest last night at a reception sponsored by Georgetown University for the Class of 2014 and their parents.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Maddy's Miracle Tail

This is a happy tale to start your weekend!

A couple of weeks ago Lara's friend, Rebekah Peterman of Sunnybrook Farm Holistic Pet Care, formed a team that included Lara's weight loss vet, Dr. Carmine Bausone, which successfully restored the ability of a young labradoodle named Maddy to wag her tail after being run over by a car in the family driveway. They did so using nonsurgical, homeopathic methods.

Read Maddy's story in today's The Coast News.
Watch her video on YouTube.

To contact Rebekah call (760) 230-0748 or visit

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Barney Rushed to Emergency Veterinary Clinic

Last night Barney was bitten by a normally sweet golden retriever at his favorite dog park here in Encinitas. The dog wouldn't let go of Barney's drooping lower lip which made it a struggle to separate the two dogs. By the time we did there was blood on Barney and my coat. The retriever was untouched.

The dog's owner, who has known Barney for several months, insisted on meeting us at the emergency veterinary clinic so his wound could be examined.

We couldn't figure out at the time what provoked the incident.
In hindsight, I think I know what happened.

Barney routinely breaks up dog fights in the park by physically inserting himself between rival dogs. He never barks or growls, he just breaks away from me, trots up to the pups, and either separates them with his head or walks between them. The fight is over. End of story. I have seen him do this many times when Lara backs herself into a corner by playing too aggressively, and also with strange dogs. He's a peacemaker.

Yesterday a smaller dog was chewing on the golden retriever's ear in play. I think Barney thought a fight was about to erupt. He broke away from me and trotted up to the two pups. I suspect the retriever felt overwhelmed by the two dogs, especially with Barney being so large, and reacted in self defense.

The retriever's owner and I decided to keep the pups apart till next week when she is going to invite her dog trainer to meet us in the park and show us how to reintroduce them. They have been buddies since August, so we're hoping things can return to normal.

A vet tech first examined Barney and said he had a puncture inside his mouth and a laceration on the outside. Dr. Hugh Elliott then took a look and said it wasn't serious and sent Barney home with antibiotics. He wants to look at him again in a week.

We got home in time to watch American Idol with Joey and Lucy-Bird, a ritual we have had since Joey was 9.

In fact, two years ago Joey and I went to L.A. to be in the American Idol audience. Joey sang "Amazing Grace" acapella at a pre-show bash hosted by first-season finalists Justin Guarini and Kimberly Caldwell. When he finished the song, Kimberly pointed to her forearm and told Joey to look at her goosebumps. Justin added, "You could win this whole competition, man!"

You can get a glimpse of what they meant when you see Joey on this video below.
He has some competition from Lucy who we were coaxing to do her "Psycho Bird" routine:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year, New Lara - Fit & Fabulous!

Yesterday Mike & Michelle Dougherty, owners of the posh Windsong Resort for Pets ("Best of San Diego, 2008" San Diego Magazine) in Escondido, invited Lara for a celebratory beauty makeover for the New Year. We didn't hesitate to take them up on their offer.

When we arrived at 9:30 a.m., the lobby area was packed. That made it even more special to think they wanted to pamper Lara when they were so busy.

Jessica Lynch (left) is the resort's head groomer and assistant manager. She
has taken a genuine interest in Lara's rehabilitation, and almost enjoys spoiling Lara as much as Lara enjoys being spoiled.

Jessica began by giving Lara a strawberry milk bath to moisturize her skin.

"Lara's coat was thick and strong," she said. "With losing weight and her thyroid being under control, her skin has healed and is great condition."

After the bath, Jessica treated Lara to a pedicure and furmination which removes the undercoat, a process she's undergone before.

"She didn't need it very much this time because she's so healthy," Jessica added.

Mike, who's an AKC-licensed judge at competitions including the Westminster Dog Show, was visibly impressed with Lara's condition.

"Unlike 'The Biggest Loser' on television, you have a real success," he said. "Some people would throw up their arms and say, 'It's a lost cause -- it's going to be what it's going to be.' Lara's dropped one-third of her body weight. Her life has been prolonged by 3 to 5 years."

Mike also admired Lara's new face.

"Now her jowl line has definition," he said. "Her muzzle and cheeks are also well defined."

Mike noted that Lara finally looks like the young dog she really is, only 3 years old.

Lara left Windsong walking on air.

The next stop was the off-leash dog trail between Mountain Vista and Encinitas Blvd. to meet up with her friends and show off her new look.

It's funny, normally Lara's a complete tomboy at the park, body-slamming and head-butting other dogs -- especially Dylan, the golden retriever in the video below with whom she shares a special fondness. You'll note there was none of that. This was a demure, ladylike Lara who was confident in her new body -- and lovin' that sexy, pink bandana.

Click to watch Lara parade her new look before friends at the dog park.