Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Eric Balfour is also an entrepreneur who, along with his girlfriend Francoise Koster, co-owns a trendy little store in Hollywood called Lou Lou, named in honor of their beloved Pitbull. (More about the store later.) Lou Lou was not the first dog in Eric's life, but she was the most important.
A native Californian, Eric had a dog when he was very little until he discovered he was allergic. It was quite a while until he had another, a Chow puppy named Bear that he found on Melrose, who still lives at his mom's house with a few other dogs and cats. "I took him home and found out I wasn't allergic anymore… but I'm still allergic to cats."
Eric's real love affair with animals actually began about 4 years ago, when he met Francoise and her Pitbull Lou Lou. "The first time I went to Francoise's house Lou Lou was in the driveway behind the gate. I couldn't get into the house, so I hopped the fence, not thinking it was a big deal. The dog was very friendly to me. I went to the door and Francoise, freaking out, asked me what I was doing. I told her I hopped the fence. She was amazed that the dog didn't attack me and was shocked when I told her it appeared that Lou Lou liked me."
It was more than just "like" at first glance for Eric and Lou Lou. "She became my baby. I always liked dogs. And I HAD a dog. They were lots of fun and good friends. But it wasn't until I met Lou Lou that my affinity for and relationship to animals changed. I had never experienced this with an animal. She was the best dog."
"She was a pure Pitbull," Eric continues, "the sweetest, most wonderful, neurotic dog with the biggest personality you'd ever meet. And she was like the total princess. She wouldn't sit on cold concrete; she would sit on your feet. And she ate the inside of my car one time when we left her in it causing $3,000 worth of damage! She would only eat filet mignon and caviar, but she would turn caviar, tuna, steak and fish down if she wasn't in the mood for it. She would also sleep in the bed with us with her head on the pillow, and in the morning when it got bright, she would scratch at the covers to try to pull them back. So I'd lift the cover up and she would crawl underneath my butt and go back to sleep. She would never get out of bed until we did and would look at me as if to say, 'come on. I don't want to get up yet.' So that was how my life as a dog person changed. I had never experienced that much personality and that much love in a dog."
"Lou Lou and Francoise both changed my relationship with animals. I grew up in a culture that had a lot of respect for animals and for their place in the universe and our world. It was always there but I'd never really experienced it personally. The relationship I've formed with animals is much more intense now."
A few years ago they added a Pitbull puppy, Bernadette, (abandoned in Bronson Canyon) to their household, but weren't sure how Lou Lou would react. "I told Francoise I didn't think we could keep Bernadette because this was Lou Lou's home and it wouldn't be fair. But we ended up trying it and eventually they became best friends. It was the first dog that Lou Lou had ever gotten along with and we don't know why."
Not long after Bernadette joined their household, they lost Lou Lou to cancer. "Bernadette was really traumatized by Lou Lou's illness," says Eric, "and Francoise didn't want to get another dog after Lou Lou passed away."
"Then one night I was searching the internet," Francoise continues, "and I found a website for Blind and Visually Impaired Dogs that urgently needed homes. I saw this picture of a Pitbull, Petey, sitting in a bathtub with his paw up, and I talked it over with Eric."
After doing a lot of research about visually impaired animals, Francoise took Bernadette with her to pick up Petey, a street dog around a year and a half old that had been battered, scarred and blinded, most likely from trauma.
"He's blind and bumps into stuff," says Eric, "but he's just the happiest, sweetest, most awesome dog. I keep telling Francoise that Petey is Lou Lou reincarnated- they are very similar in many ways. And he and Bernadette get along well."
Francoise says that Petey really isn't that different from a dog that can see. "He's figured out his way around the house, and he tests everything with his mouth. He even ate the remote control. But he's very sensitive and uses his taste buds… that's how he figures things out. Most people don't realize he's blind. He's amazing."
He also appears to be very talented. One day Petey was hanging out with Eric during a music rehearsal at the house, "and we started playing this one really high pitched guitar note when Petey just started singing along. (Eric starts to howl.) Then later I just howled at him and he howled back. Now whenever I sing or I'm practicing for a show he just starts howling. He wants to sing!
Eric says that despite the bad press, "Pitbulls are not mean or evil dogs. They have very specific character traits and they have high prey drives, which is very different than being mean. When they see something running or playing they want to play with it… they want to pounce on it and get it. It's a game to them a lot of times. I just think they are unfairly treated. They are very smart dogs. They are very sweet and they are very sensitive, in some ways more sensitive than other dogs."
Francoise has been doing volunteer work with The Brittany Foundation and Villalobos Pitbull Rescue for quite awhile. And together, she and Eric have been involved with a very special program established by Tia Torres and her Villalobos Rescue Center called "Pets In The Hood."
"This is a program," Eric explains, "that takes rescued Pitbulls that are either wild or abandoned or abused… and brings them into a juvenile detention center where the kids are taught to train them so they can be adopted. The point is that you're taking two outcasts of society- this juvenile, who's been outcast and not taken care of… and this animal, that has not been taken care of, and they are put together to help each other. The love and respect the kids learn when they spend time with this dog that doesn't care what they've done, doesn't care who they are or where they come from and just loves them unconditionally is a powerful tool in healing these people. It helps the kids AND the dogs. Currently Pets In The Hood has had to be reduced to 5 to 6 boys working one-on-one with 5 to 6 volunteers and dogs. (If they can get more volunteers to take part in the program, more dogs and boys can be involved.) The boys learn how to train and care for the dogs, and when they are released, they can continue working with the program at Villalobos Rescue's headquarters.
Francoise adds that they are trying to involve other types of businesses with the program, "so that when these kids get out there are possible jobs for them. A lot of these kids don't think they'll have an opportunity to do something once they're released. The idea is that once they learn compassion and responsibility with the dogs, they'll be more prepared to deal with society… and local businesses can really be of help here."
Francoise and her family have owned La Poubelle Restaurant, a mainstay in Hollywood on Franklin Ave, for over 30 years. Through various sponsorship programs they try to bring awareness about animals to people in their community, and especially to children at schools in the area.
"It really takes so little for a business to be effective within its own community. If a dog is in need of a loving home, I put flyers in the guest checks of our customers. Some people are offended, but what I love about my mom is she tells them to go to hell! So I do things like that here. The restaurant also will rent a bus and take local school kids on a trip to the zoo, to expose them to animals for the first time."
Lou Lou, Eric and Francoise's store, is next to La Poubelle. "It's a lifestyle store," describes Eric, "with furniture and art and clothing. Basically you're walking into a store and you're buying our taste, what we think is cool and hip and interesting." (By the way, if you stop by, you might just get to meet Petey or Bernadette who often hang out in the store.)
Lou Lou's also sells items that helps animals, like chocolate bars to save endangered species, Healthy Planet greeting cards, and "elephant art." These are paintings created by a rescued elephant named Susie, "who actually likes it when you give her a paintbrush," explains Francoise. "She just moves it around the canvas with her trunk. She's also available to create commissioned paintings to your color specifications. Susie is with another elephant named Butch at the Elephants of Africa Rescue Society in Acton, which adopts elephants in the US. Butch came from a defunct children's zoo on the east coast, where he was abandoned in a field and starved to death. Plus he had been de-trunked and castrated. But now he's got a home with this wonderful rescue. 100% of the proceeds from Susie's art goes to help this rescue and to help researchers in Africa."
Eric Balfour's life is filled with more than just animals. There's his acting as well as his music. "It just so happens that I have been introduced to these animals and it's given me an outlook to help make a difference."
Readers of The Pet Press can also make a difference. Eric says, "first of all, spay and neuter your animals. Next, if you're going to buy a dog, which I don't think you should because there are so many dogs that need homes… if you can afford to buy one and can spend that money, you can afford to ADOPT one and have a second one as well. That should become a mandated rule. Last, get involved. You'll enjoy it. Go to The Brittany Foundation on Sundays. Volunteer for the Pets In The Hood program. Go to the dog park. You'll have fun. Play with the animals. That's what happened to me. It's a really fun thing to do in your community. It's surprising how helping and working with animals can bring you fulfillment. When you help a dog it's just as good as helping a person. I'm the example of someone who didn't know how great it could be to be an animal lover… until I finally had one. I guess that makes me a born again animal lover!"
(Watch for Eric Balfour on Fox TV's 24, Tuesdays at 9pm, and on the new season of Six Feet Under which returns to HBO on March 3rd. To help the animals, stop by Lou Lou at 5905 Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, where you can also find out about appearances by Eric's band Fredalba. And to get involved with Pets In The Hood, call Villalobos Rescue Center at 661-268-0555)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
pet lovers in the Los Angeles area. The mission of The Pet Press is three-fold:
Each issue of The Pet Press contains the following sections: