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!

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

Animal welfare: There are three humane choices for egg-laying hens

The egg has always generated conversation, beginning with its debatable role preceding the chicken. Recent news and legislation advance the chicken-egg relationship further by defining space requirements and additional welfare considerations for egg-laying hens and other farm animals.

Unfortunately, some important issues have been lost in the debate.

Many egg producers, retailers and consumers are concerned that mandating only one type of egg production as meeting humane standards could create serious issues. For example, mandating cage-free eggs as the only type of humane eggs could increase the cost of eggs to the point of being unaffordable for many people. Continue reading

The National Provisioner : Animal welfare is about much more than animals

pigs, pork, animal welfareThere was a time in our culture when many consumers were more connected to food and agriculture. Citizens knew a farmer or grew up near a farm, milk was delivered directly to people’s doorsteps, and consumers regularly visited their neighborhood butcher.

Yet business consolidation, innovation and technology dramatically changed this way of life, seemingly right before our eyes.

Similarly, animal welfare in food production is no longer just about farmers and ranchers and the way they treat their animals. It is now part of a comprehensive food system that includes consumers, retailers and restaurants, government and regulatory agencies, NGOs, auditors and certifiers, and educators. Our food system is predicated on a model of safety and affordability while aspiring to a balance that is moral and defensible. Continue reading

A New Year for Compassion

Thank you to all our supporters for helping make 2013 our most successful year ever in building a more humane world for children and animals. Together, we touched more than one billion lives with programs that brought comfort, caring and hope to the most vulnerable in their times of greatest need. In the year ahead we are working to do even more. Here are just a few of the exciting projects we have slated for 2014:

  •  American Humane Association will be releasing the first “State of America’s Children” report, exploring the most pressing issues and threats to the nation’s young people. This will be a companion piece to our yearly “State of America’s Animals” report
  • We are launching the full clinical trial of our “Canines and Childhood Cancer Study” with Zoetis to explore the healing power of the human-animal bond in helping children with cancer Continue reading

Celebrate #GivingTuesday by Giving Back

It’s Giving Tuesday, Celebrate by Giving Back

#IGiveFor #GivingTuesday
We hope you had a wonderful, stress-free holiday weekend. I’m sure many of you braved the crowds at your local stores, or went online to take advantages of the deals offered up by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And after the dust has settled on some of the busiest shopping days of the year, we turn our focus to Giving Tuesday, the day that celebrates giving back.

Organizations like American Humane Association depend on the generous contributions of supporters like you. And thanks to you, we’ve been able to carry on our mission of spreading compassion, caring, and hope for a more humane world since 1877. Just this year, we were able to give back to America’s children and animals in many meaningful ways.

Ways American Humane Association Gave in 2013

  • Following the terror attack that struck the city of Boston in April 2013, we provided the healing power of the human-animal bond through animal-assisted therapy to children, students, families, first responders and anyone needing comfort and hope around the city.
  • Launched the pilot chapter of the LIFE Humane Heroes Club at a Florida elementary school. This new after-school program features a curriculum that will teach children the importance of being humane and making a more compassionate world for people, pets, and the world we share. This program will soon be implemented at schools nationwide.
  • Through our Second Chance® Fund we helped to pay the medical costs for 20 Chihuahuas that were stuffed into a coffin and left to die in the scorching sun. With love, care and medical attention, they are slowly learning to trust again and that not all people are bad.
  • In May 2013, following a devastating EF 5 tornado, our Red Star™ team deployed to help the community of Moore, Oklahoma. During our 30 days in Oklahoma—our longest deployment since Hurricane Katrina—we rescued and sheltered more than 200 animals. This deployment marked the debut of our new Lois Pope LIFE Rescue Vehicle, which traveled from its home base of South Florida to help the animals of Oklahoma in need.
  • Our Red Star™ Animal Assisted Therapy volunteers provided therapy dogs to 15 summer camps and family retreats hosted by National Military Families Association for children and families of our nation’s military.
  • In August 2013, we concluded the pilot trial of its Canines and Childhood Cancer study, a groundbreaking research effort to evaluate and document the benefits of animal-assisted therapy for children with cancer. A full clinical trial is expected to begin in late 2013.
  • In August 2013, our Red Star™ team worked in collaboration with other state and national animal organizations, caring and sheltering more than 250 animals rescued from a dog fighting ring spread across four states.
  • In September 2013, as part of a coordinated response to the flooding in Colorado, Red Star deployed to assist pets in need and to help provide emergency rescue operations. Working feverishly to help those in need, Red Star  and other animal rescue groups rescued over 146 animals, including dogs, cats, ducks, chickens and turtles.
  •  The 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards™ campaign named therapy dog Elle—a pit bull who teaches children how to read and about dog safety—as this year’s top Hero Dog.
  • In October 2013, the country’s first National Fire Dog Monument, honoring the brave work of arson dogs and their handlers, was unveiled and dedicated in our nation’s capital.
  • Held the first ever Cat Health and Welfare Forum, tackling head-on many of the issues that face America’s most popular pet.


But Giving Tuesday is more than just giving charitable contributions to organizations like American Humane Association. There are so many ways you can help and give back to your community.

  • Support American Humane Association’s mission and programs, protecting both children and animals by Donating
  • Pledge to help create a better, more humane and compassionate world for all of us
  • Share our message with your friends and family – Be sure to tag @AmericanHumane #IGiveFor
  • Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Find your local pet shelter using PetFinder
  • Volunteer to read to children at your local library. Find your local library here
  • Donate grocery store gift cards to your local homeless shelter. Find your local homeless shelter!
  • Donate food to your local pet food pantry. Find your local pet food pantry here
  • Sponsor a child by participating in a holiday tree in your local mall or at a local school
  • Become an American Humane Association Red Star volunteer
  • Serve a “Humane Table” this holiday season
  • See if your pet has what it takes to become a registered therapy animal, brightening the days of hospital patients, the elderly, and more. Click here

Thank you for all you do to make Giving Tuesday such a special day for so many.