The Reunion of Specialist Brent Grommet with his Warrior Dog Matty

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It was a dream come true for hero dog and hero soldier.  Thanks to Don Grommet’s personal mission to right a wrong for his son, a hero in the War on Terror, MWD Matty is now at home in Missouri with his battle buddy.   I am so thrilled that Specialist Brent Grommet and his dog Matty have been reunited after more than a year apart.  I am also humbled that American Humane Association was able to play a part in making this reunion happen.  American Humane has helped numerous warrior dog handlers reunite with their battle buddies, but this reunion is extra special because of all the work and effort that went into it. After working with so many veterans to help them be reunited with the dogs with whom they developed such a close bond, you come to understand just how important and meaningful those relationships are to these men and women. It’s about compassion, caring and healing. Continue reading

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On Tour With Animal Stars: Part 1

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Last month I published my first book Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors, co-written with my friends Allen and Linda Anderson, and featuring a foreword from America’s Veterinarian, Dr. Marty Becker.

I approached the book with a fan’s mentality: I was raised on Disney movies and iconic television shows like “Lassie,” “Mr. Ed,” and “Flipper.” Those animal stars are some of the most iconic in Hollywood history, and I was so honored to learn that American Humane Association’s “No Animals Were Harmed®” Program was there on set then to make sure those stars were safe when bringing their larger than life roles to the silver and small screen. This book is a love letter to not only those amazing animal actors, but their hardworking, dedicated trainers as well. My goal with the book was to show readers how much hard work and long hours it takes to make these roles a reality, and the amount of effort our own Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ go through to truly ensure the safety of those furry, winged, and scaled actors.

Now that the hardcover edition (featuring Richard Gere and Chico the Akita, the titular canine star of Hachi) is in bookstores everywhere, I’ve been on the road at Barnes & Nobles around the country to meet people like me: lifelong fans of animal actors. We’ve had some great stops along the way, and have many touching experiences we’ll cherish for a lifetime.

So far, the tour has hit Houston; Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Winston-Salem, in my home state of North Carolina, and it’s been the thrill of a lifetime to meet so many wonderful Americans and share tales of animal actors featured in the book. Tales like Casey, the diva bear who would only work for KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken – not Extra Crispy– as his treat. The bear had a discriminating palate and nothing but the Colonel’s Original Recipe would do. Or tales like how Crystal the capuchin – referred to as the Angelina Jolie of animal stars – has formed true bonds with her human co-stars, and brought comfort and joy to Robin Williams on his birthday, just a few short weeks before his life was tragically cut short. He called Crystal his favorite leading lady, which is certainly high praise from someone with so many credits to his name.

At every stop we’ve been joined by Hudson, the delightful Golden Retriever you know as Willie Nelson from the 2011 comedy Our Idiot Brother, where he shared the screen with Paul Rudd. Hudson has also been on “Saturday Night Live” several times, including most famously as Mitt Romney’s dog during a skit airing close to the 2012 election. Christina Potter, Hudson’s trainer and mom, has been such a joy to work with. She loves showing off Hudson’s range of tricks to the delight of children and really anyone who meets him.

Not only has Hudson been with us, but we’ve had the chance to be joined by some special Hero Dog winners as well. In Boston on October 22 we had the pleasure of welcoming Stella, the standard poodle winner of the Therapy Dog category at the 2012 Hero Dog Awards. As always, she was dressed in an outfit her mom Marissa had put together, and in Boston it was a lovely green sweater Marissa had knitted herself.

StellaVetWhile there we made friends with a young veteran named Nathan who is going through a rough time since returning home from deployment. He was in the store to buy a chemistry book, but his life may have changed forever after meeting Stella. He ended up spending an hour with us, and not only bought a copy of Animal Stars, but truly bonded with Stella (see picture at right of them). Nathan sent a very touching email to Stella, where he said that bonding with her made him want to look into getting a service dog, so he could learn to live and love again. Nathan’s email is why we are doing this tour. And we wish him the very best.

The Sunday stop at Winston-Salem had several 2014 Hero Dog winners in the house: JJ the Service Dog category winner and Donna Lawrence, whose lovable pit bull mix Susie is the new American Hero Dog. Of course, since JJ is a service dog, she was there with KK, the lovely little girl coping with a very serious condition. JJ is her number one line of defense for sensing when severe reactions are about to occur, and alerts KK’s parents and teachers to administer medicine immediately. I can’t think of a more special, meaningful example of the human-animal bond. Hudson seemed to have huge crush on JJ, rushing over to sniff her at every chance he got.

I’m writing this now as I’m about to board a flight to Las Vegas, site of a tour stop on Tuesday October 28. This will be the first of three stops this week, with Kansas City and Nashville still to come in the next few days. This week we will welcome another animal star to our tour, Bonny the Shih Tzu who you know as the star of the movie Seven Psychopaths. Like many of the animal actors featured in the book, Bonny is a rescue, and was given a second chance at life. From once languishing in a shelter to then co-starring in a movie with Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson, not a bad gig.

I want to thank everyone who has come to our events so far and for everyone planning on coming to the final few stops. But most of all, I want to thank Christina and her husband Taylor, who have driven from their home in New Jersey to every stop so far. They’ve put a lot of miles on their tires and taken off a lot of time, going from Texas to DC to Boston to North Carolina just to be with us. All four of their dogs are along for the ride, including Chester the Berger Picard, and their two Chinese Cresteds, Pepe and Morgan. The Potters are quite the sight when they come into a bookstore or hotel with all four dogs in tow.

We’ll see the Potters once again when they come back down to North Carolina for our stop in Charlotte on November 15.

I hope to see more fans of animal stars in the next few days. Be sure to visit the book’s website for all the dates, times, and locations. Until then, as I say on my radio show, let’s all remember to Be Humane!

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Meeting Finder, the Horse Who Played Joey in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse

Animal StarsFrom childhood, we have always felt loved horses. We love horses so much that we have written two books about these amazing creatures. Just as millions of people around the world have, we watched the Thoroughbred Joey in Steven Spielberg’s movie War Horse and marveled at the horse’s acting and athletic ability. Remember the spectacular scene when Joey jumps over the World War I tanks? The horse’s keen intelligence and bravery heightened our regard for him from respect to awe.

What a treat it would be to actually meet Finder, the amazing horse who played the role of Joey, and his incredible trainer Bobby Lovgren. Part of our extensive research as co-authors with Robin Ganzert, PhD, president and CEO of American Humane Association, for our new book Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors, was to meet the celebrity animals who star in film and television and to interview their world-class trainers. Continue reading

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Meeting Crystal, the Monkey from Night at the Museum Movies

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Don’t we all, deep in our hearts, want to meet a celebrity superstar someday?

Our opportunity came when we interviewed Thomas (Tom) Gunderson and met his family’s most famous member—Crystal, the adorable capuchin monkey who starred in the Night At The Museum movies, among many other memorable roles.

Meeting this delightful A-lister movie star was a special part of our extensive research as co-authors with Robin Ganzert, president of American Humane Association, for our new book ANIMAL STARS: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors (New World Library, September, 2014, www.animalstarsbook.com). We had to literally go “behind the scenes” to see for ourselves how the animals we all love in film, television, and commercials are trained and cared for. Continue reading

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From Heart Wrenching to Heartwarming: Red Star® Tennessee Horse Rescue

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We weren’t sure that we were going to be able to save him. Weak and frail, I looked into Scooter’s eyes and could tell that he had lost all hope. He simply had just given up and decided that he couldn’t take it any longer. But, as our team crested the hill last Thursday morning during a law enforcement seizure in Lauderdale County, Tennessee to rescue six horses in a heart wrenching case of alleged animal cruelty – our teams immediately sprang into action – committed to getting Scooter and the five other members of his equestrian family off of the property alive.

Our Red Star® team, alongside our great friend and veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Dunlap of Dunlap Equine Services, worked with incredible precision to save the lives of these horses, some of which were so horribly malnourished that they required IVs and oxygen before we could even leave the property where the seizure was being conducted. In the field, Scooter by far was the absolute worst. He, along with several others were critical – and Dr. Dunlap was diligent in providing swift, expert medical treatment to help save them. However, there was still a huge problem. Scooter not only needed IVs and oxygen – he was so weak that he couldn’t get up. So our amazing team once again sprang into action – getting trucks into position, carefully preparing straps, all the while providing comfort to poor Scooter whose life remained in the balance.

I held Scooter’s head while the team prepared to slowly lift Scooter to his feet so we could load him onto a transport trailer and then immediately rush him to our undisclosed emergency shelter for further intensive care. While we waited, I could sense that while he was coming around thanks to some of the emergency treatment he received – he still felt completely defeated. But within moments, teams of three-four lifted opposing straps which were properly positioned under Scooter’s body, and he was – to our astonishment – upright just long enough for us to load him into the trailer before he collapsed in the soft bedding where he remained for transport.

Our work didn’t stop in the field though, and quite frankly it was only just beginning. Back at the emergency shelter our teams have been running a 24/7 critical care unit along with Dr. Dunlap. And Scooter, once unloaded through professional rescue techniques, was immediately placed in an Anderson sling and was connected to more IV’s while receiving much needed oxygen just to keep him alive.

These horses are far from out of the woods and our teams continue to provide intensive care to these precious animals around-the-clock. From cleaning stalls, to providing lifesaving intervention including blood transfusions and hand-feeding critically ill animals – our team hasn’t stopped. But happily, one thing is for sure – Scooter is certainly starting to get that sparkle back in his eyes and he’s even taken his first steps and remained out of the sling over the last 12-24 hours thanks to his miraculous progress. It literally brought tears to some of our eyes as we watched him feel free and strong enough to stand on his own for the first time. It was exceptionally heartwarming!

I cannot thank our team of heroes enough. And I cannot express the amount of appreciation we have for the many caring individuals who have helped these animals. Most importantly – we thank our wonderful supporters like you – and our Red Star program presenting sponsors at MARS Petcare US, makers of PEDIGREE® food for dogs – you each allow us to save animals’ lives at a moment’s notice! Those animals just like Scooter, and the other horses that now have a fighting chance.

American Humane Association is the country’s first national humane organization and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals. Visit American Humane Association at www.americanhumane.org and remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Retired military dogs deserve a new leash on life

Mankind has always had a special relationship with dogs.

For thousands of years, dogs have comforted us, protected us, and given us their unconditional love. Time and time again through the ages they have proven why they are considered our best friends.  And nowhere is that remarkable bond between dogs and people been more critical than on the battlefield. Continue reading

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