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Published: Saturday, 2/15/2003

A dog's life ain't all bad: Just ask TV star Duke

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

He has the handsome chestnut locks of Leonardo DiCaprio and the unruffled nonchalance of Clint Eastwood.

And like all established stars, Duke tolerated both fans and photo ops yesterday with a practiced affectation - paws crossed and deep hazel eyes locked onto his admirers.

His handler shrugged.

“We're on the road a lot,” said Joel Silverman, host of the Animal Planet channel's Good Dog U. “He doesn't get too excited anymore.”

As if on cue, Duke yawned. Cameras clicked.

The hairy star of several commercials, Duke is the one stealing his owner's Nissan or snapping the shot of a mischievous feline.

The Shepherd-St. Bernard mix dropped by the Toledo Area Humane Society yesterday as part of agency's 119th anniversary celebration, and - appropriately enough for Valentine's Day - to illustrate the proper partnership of owner and pet.

As in human relationships, dogs and owners often are mismatched, Mr. Silverman said. “It's emotion. People often pick animals because they're thinking with their heart, not their brain,” he said. “You need both.”

Mr. Silverman would know. He has scouted dozens of unwanted mixed breeds from shelters, molding the mutts for Hollywood. Duke, in fact, had a regular role on the show Empty Nest.

Yesterday, more than 40 fans - both two and four-legged - came to meet the pair, cramming onto bleachers at the Humane Society's auditorium.

There was Juneau, a Bouvier des Flandres, who foraged for food in the back yard and was terrified of cars. There was Daisy, a border collie, who wanted to herd cars.

“Walking her is a nightmare,” said Jan Schaffer, of Temperance.

Mr. Silverman tackled the concerns from the crowd, as 11-year-old Duke rolled to his side, and stretched out on the cool linoleum.

Many canine behaviors must be modified with assertive but loving training, Mr. Silverman said.

“If you're not the alpha, you have serious problems. But you can be in charge and still be in a loving relationship,” he said.

Still, humans too often try to make their pawed partners into perfect companions. Like humans, dogs come with behaviors forged from their past, he said. “All animals come with baggage,” he said. “Some come with more than others.”

He spoke of a 6-year-old dog that was terrified of men after being abused by them. Another 3-year-old dog spent three years learning to fight and was, therefore, aggressive. “Sometimes,” he said, “you just have to deal with the baggage.”



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