Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Something else Lisa enjoys is her menagerie of animals that consists of one cat and three dogs, all rescues with unique stories that have definitely impacted her personal view of what she does best when it comes to dealing with animals.
Raised in Wayne, New Jersey, Lisa recalls a pivotal moment in her youth that impacted her future as an animal rescuer. “I was adopted by a neighborhood cat who decided that I was ‘it’. My entire family was allergic to cats, but this cat and I just bonded, and she then began to have litters in my house. This was really before the days of figuring out that you have to get your cats neutered. And she was someone else’s cat who just decided that I was her keeper. So she had a few litters and we got them homes. I guess this was my first lesson in that - getting these reports back about these kittens that I’d raised that people had adopted – that had been killed this way or that way or left behind – it was devastating. I was probably 12 or 13. I cried so hard with every story that came back to me. I couldn’t believe that people were that idiotic. They were just thoughtless about animals.”
“I think I always loved animals, but this was the beginning of my having feelings of extreme protectiveness. I got really angry at people. Those situations had already happened. There was nothing I could do except learn.”
And learn she did as she opened her heart and home to first, her cat named Bug, who is now 15, and the three dogs who came along next.
First came Sandwich, “the daughter of a stray dog my friend found who actually became the dog of another friend of mine. Originally named Hero, the girl who took in the dog and I ended up sharing a house together. But then Hero got hit by a car, and the girl who was her actual guardian couldn’t handle it at all. She didn’t have the skills to deal with trauma and didn’t want to have anything to do with the dog now that she was so badly hurt. So Hero became my dog and I kicked the girl out of my home. We had jokingly been calling her Hero Sandwich, so then I just changed her name to Sandwich because I didn’t want any reminders of the misery she had suffered. Sandwich is a shepherd mix, about 11 years old now.”
Next came Wolf E, “a mutt who kind of looks like an American Eskimo, only he’s the wrong color, he’s more golden. He was found on a film shoot,” Lisa explains, “and ended up at a neighbor’s house who had borrowed a hand sander from me. When I went to get the hand sander back, this dog fell on my feet. The neighbor said he didn’t know what was wrong with the dog… he just left him in the courtyard all day. So I asked if I could borrow the dog, and the next day I asked if I could keep him.”
“I brought Wolf E to my vet who, coincidentally, was the very same vet who had originally treated him. He had all the original x-rays, so we knew his back wasn’t broken; he had some kind of neurological problem. He needed eye surgery, he couldn’t walk, he was having seizures, and he was really a mess. He had no light in his eyes and really looked like he was just waiting to die. I started to realize his seizures happened whenever he got excited about anything good or bad. It was almost like a nervous tick. The more confident he became in his home life and with my other dogs, the seizures just went away. Little by little he re-taught himself how to walk. He walks like Pepe LaPew, straight up and down. He prances. And he runs with a series of leaps. It’s really beautiful, and people think I specially trained him, but it’s actually because he was brain damaged. He doesn’t really have seizures anymore and just has a few special needs, like he has to be fed separately. I’ve had him for ten years and he’s doing great. He’s probably about 15.”
“And then there is Bumpa,” Lisa continues. “Found near Dodger Stadium, she had passed hands a number of times. I got her when she was being given away at a garage sale. I’ve been told she’s very much like a Healer - she’s short and stocky and very fast. She’s the most dog of my dogs and has had the least trauma. She hasn’t really been humanized, like Sandwich, who was totally humanized because she needed so much special care after she was hit by the car. I had to spend all my time with her for a month including figuring out when she had to go to the bathroom and holding her while she did, because she couldn’t stand on her hind legs. She’s very attached to me and Wolf E is very attached to me from his needs. Bumpa, however, has the kind of personality that she wouldn’t ask for attention, but if you didn’t give it to her she would just go into a corner and chew her leg. She has emotional abandonment issues that we have since dealt with.”
Each dog has a unique relationship with Bug, the cat, who Lisa has had since she was about nine months old. “When I got Sandwich, who was smaller than Bug at the time, they were like a hallmark card, the two of them. It was ridiculously cute. They would sit next to each other on the porch watching the sun set. So Sandwich has been around Bug her whole life. And Wolf E had no problem with Bug. He didn’t know where he was, let alone what a cat was. I don’t think he knows the difference between my body and a dog body and a cat body. He’s perfectly fine in his own world. Bumpa, however, took a little work to get him to deal with Bug. Bug and Bumpa are actually a little obsessed with each other. Cats and dogs have different body language and just don’t make sense to each other. And because Bumpa is a healer, a herding dog, she would always kind of herd the cat. Then Bug would start weaving in and out of Bumpa’s legs, rubbing her back, which was not at all the direction that Bumpa had asked the cat to go in. They have this very funny, strange relationship where Bug totally loves Bumpa, but Bumpa just doesn’t understand Bug.”
“I’ve had a lot of rescues that I’ve taken in for brief periods of time and then found homes for them. But these three are my dogs. I always knew these dogs were going to stay with me.”
Lisa is a huge supporter of Best Friends Animal Society, which she learned about around eight years ago while tending to a dying seagull on the beach at a Malibu party. “I’ve been to many of their events. At first I went to their special adoption events and helped get dogs homes by walking around with the dogs from the city shelters. The first two times I went I had a really hard time because I had dogs that were difficult to adopt, who would end up going back to the shelters to be killed. I burst into tears. So they learned to not give me dogs from the shelters. Now I go to these events and talk to people and help out on stage introducing the dogs in need of homes. If I get too deeply involved with the individual dogs I get too upset. It’s just not my skill. And I go to the Best Friends Lint Roller Party as long as I’m not working.” (Originally set for April, the Lint Roller Party has been postponed until mid-September. Stay tuned to our Events Calendar for updates about this really incredible evening.)
Lisa also helped out last fall with the Rescue for Ruffugees program that took in displaced animals rescued after Katrina. “Through my work with Best Friends I’ve met people from New Leash on Life, Much Love, and some of the other groups. Someone said they needed some celebrities at Van Nuys Airport the day these animals were arriving from the Gulf Coast so they could get the press interested, which is unfortunate but true. It was tough and really upsetting. I don’t do well in animal shelters. For whatever reason I can deal much better with human tragedy than I can with animal tragedy. I’m sure that requires years of therapy to figure that out. I just feel that we are their caretakers. These dogs and cats were in such bad shape when they showed up that day. I always have that urge to want to take in another dog, especially from a situation like that, but, because I’ve got three dogs and a cat, I have to respect that.”
“I think if everyone can get to a place where they understand how they can give, it’s great. You don’t have to give the same way the next person does,” says Lisa. “You have to find your special ability; everybody’s got one. If we all had the same ability that wouldn’t work either. My role is to be a face and a voice. I can show up and I can have enthusiasm. I’ve also been very hands-on when animals come my way, but on a larger scale it’s painful for me. I can handle the one-on-one that goes with dealing with a special needs animal. I find it fulfilling, it doesn’t overwhelm me, I get focused, it’s what I can do. But that’s not true for everybody. Like the girl who originally had Sandwich – she just could not handle it. That dog would have died in her care.”
“If I’m dealing with one animal, I have control over what care that animal gets, and I can do something about it,” continues Lisa. “And if that animal dies, I’ve done my best. In situations such as at shelters or at the special adoption days I have no control. I’m surrounded by tragedy and I am powerless. It’s like those people who start a rescue and end up with 300 dogs… and none of them are getting proper care. The initial impulse was a good one, it’s just that they’re trying to save everybody, but they can’t. It’s those people who can’t walk into a shelter and say no to anybody. But in fact, you have to or else you’re going to hurt somebody else. It’s a horrifying choice to have to make. I am not built for that kind of life, but I am definitely built for that one-on-one situation.”
“Relationships are difficult to begin with but an interspecies one is just a miracle. My animals are incredibly intuitive, loving creatures, and I learn a lot from them. We have a very communicative relationship, my animals and me, and I talk to them all the time. I think because it started with Sandwich… convincing an animal who wants to die not to die is very special. She was four months old with her pelvis shattered, her leg was broken, her hip was reconstructed and she was not allowed to walk. Teaching a four month old to not walk until you tell it to… and figuring out a way that you can pick this dog up… she had to lay perfectly still when I picked her up. I had to pick her up like a tray. If she moved at all she would scream. So she learned to lay perfectly still when I picked her up and then I’d walk her out really slowly, bend over and hold her under her rib cage so she could go to the bathroom. We got to communicate well enough to know that that’s what I was doing and why I was doing it… and she got it. We did it three times a day. That was the beginning of really understanding that there’s no barrier here, it’s just a question of paying attention. I think that carries through with the relationships I have with all my animals. I’m so grateful to be able to have that. I think it’s amazing that two different species can communicate somehow… even though they can’t do it in the way they are most comfortable. It’s good to let people know that they can do a lot for an animal that others might just discard. You can really make a difference. Two out of three of my dogs were ready to die when I got them. One is now 11 ½ and the other one is 15.”
(You can watch Lisa Edelstein on House, on Fox TV, airing Tuesdays at 9pm. As Lisa says, “I’m the head of a TV hospital which is actually one that requires ratings to stay open.”)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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