Thanks to technology, I can be a recluse and still be very social. In fact, if I didn’t own a guide dog, I might never have to leave the house. But I do have my guy, Nash, who not only gets me out but also loves to introduce me to other people.
I began thinking what a bizarre world we live in as I recently sat down to talk with New York City’s longtime rock ‘n’ roll DJ and animal lover Maria Milito. I have known Maria for years, but we never actually met until this past February, when she was emceeing the New York Pet Fashion Show and I was receiving an award for my work writing about dogs.
Maria has been a longtime voice of animals, advocating for them on her show, as well as blogging about causes near and dear to her. She can often be seen around New York and New Jersey volunteering her time to animal causes. I asked her about her love of dogs and how she’s helping others work through the pain of losing a dog.
Brian Fischler: When did your love affair with dogs begin?
Maria Milito: Like typical parents, my parents wouldn’t let me have a dog as they thought they would have to end up taking care of it. I really loved my aunts and uncles, but really really loved them because they had a dog. I grew up with turtles and fish, and it wasn’t until I got married that I got a dog.
Tell us about your current dog.
I have a wonderful guy, Fredo — we think he is a black Lab and German Shorthair Pointer from Mississippi. He’s about three years old, and probably is a failed hunting dog, but is now a New Yorker!
Down South his name was Bubba, but I didn’t think that really fit in in NYC. I loved The Godfather, and really loved John Cazale, who played Fredo. I named him Fredo to honor John and the character, but I do think Fredo the dog is much smarter than Fredo from The Godfather!
When he first got here he was afraid of a lot of things. The coffee and hot dog carts used to really scare him. He thought the carts were a big scary monster.
How did you get Fredo to adapt to life in the big city?
I think an older man first owned Fredo and he couldn’t handle him. He ended up being fostered by another woman who kept him tethered outside. I realized that every photo I was seeing him in he had a chain around his neck. I just had to bring him to New York.
In the ads they always say every dog is great with children and other dogs, but when Fredo got here he would snarl at other dogs, and he was fearful of a lot. I took him to two different trainers, but there was only a small improvement in his behavior; then I interviewed Cesar Millan and he suggested Carl’s Calm Canines. Carl had trained under Cesar and has a house out in Jersey that your dog stays at and lives with other dogs and they figure out what the issue is.
An hour after I had dropped Fredo off, Carl emailed me a video of Fredo on a treadmill. Ends up Fredo had a lot of energy that needed to be burnt off.
I visited Fredo after the first week, as it takes a few days for the dogs to get acclimated, and even though you miss him terribly you have to remember the program is about fixing a behavior, so you really need to do what is best for the dog. The program is really like camp for dogs.
How do you handle the excess energy now that Fredo is home?
I bought a doggy treadmill, and Fredo loves it. I will say “treadmill,” and Fredo hops on it all ready to go. Some days, I also take Fredo to doggy daycare, so during the day he is being plenty active.
I always knew that Fredo wasn’t an aggressive dog, and when I sat down with Carl he confirmed it, telling me, “Your dog’s not aggressive, he’s just uncertain.”
When did you decide that you wanted to lend your voice to animals?
It probably started when I was back at K-Rock (WXRK). The first event I got involved with was a Cancer Society event called Dogswalk, which is now Bark for Life.
Promoting animal causes really blossomed when I got to Q104.3. I had a Pug named Clarice, named for Jodie Foster’s character in Silence of the Lambs. For some reason I just absolutely loved the way Anthony Hopkins said her name.
When I got Clarice, I felt my heart had gotten a little bigger, kind of like the Grinch’s heart does in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and it occurred to me that I have a microphone, so I should be using it to do some good. Clarice was so special and I started talking about her a lot on the air.
Once I started doing that, I started getting more and more requests to host animal events, and it just kept growing and growing over the years. I have always felt that cats and dogs don’t have a voice, but I do, so it’s a win-win.
You had another dog named Carmine — tell us a little about him.
Carmine was a very special dog. He only lived to be four, as he died very suddenly from kidney disease. Carmine would accompany me to events like the Canine Cotillion, put on by St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center. Carmine was a big hit when he accompanied me in 2011. Everybody was looking forward to seeing Carmine again at the 2012 benefit, but he passed away two weeks before the event.
St. Hubert’s ended up starting the Carmine Fund, which provided a dog that needed hip replacement surgery with funding, with a vet donating his services. It was all very cool, and stuff like that makes me cry. Carmine was only here for a short time, but he was a very special dog. I cried for three months after he passed, and his loss took me a really long time to get over.
When did you decide to write about your experiences with loss?
When Clarice passed, I decided to talk about it on the air and blog about it. The outpouring of emotion blew me away as I received hundreds of emails. I found it all very therapeutic, as I made sure to respond to every email. I would get these emails from construction workers who had a dog when they were six, and hearing me talk about Clarice really took them back to remembering great times from their childhood with their dog.
They were all sharing their stories with me, and I showed a friend the emails, and he said you really need to do something with these. So in 2011, I self-published Clarice and Friends, a book with all the emails. I got permission from everyone and told stories that answered some very helpful questions, like, “How do I know when it is time to put my dog down?” “How do I know when it is time to adopt another dog?” “Should I keep my dog’s stuff?” Anything that I thought might be helpful to someone coping with the loss of a pet. We have since donated the proceeds from the book to a bunch of different charities. It’s all very therapeutic.
When Carmine passed, I went back to read the book again. As I was reading it, it occurred to me that there were very few mentions of what to do when you lose a young pet. There’s really not a lot in there for people who lose a pet unexpectedly, and having just gone through that, I thought it would be a great chapter to add.
My friend Paul, who has been helping with the book all along, got me to start soliciting stories from people who experience losing a pet prematurely. We’re not just looking for stories about a dog, as we want to tell stories about all pets. Some of the stories we have received are just devastating, but I think it is important to share them.
There are a lot of pet books out there, but this one is a little different as it is directly from the pet owner’s perspective.
How can people share their stories with you for the new chapter?
We are still looking for stories we can include, and you can get in touch with us and share your story by visiting www.clariceandfriends.com. We want people to be able to share their grief, and it’s all for a great cause as we don’t make any money off the book — it’s all donated to other animal charities. My listeners have always helped me, so this is my way to help others.
What advice do you have for someone dealing with the loss of a pet?
I’m not trying to be Debby Downer here, but I do feel it is best to cry as much as you want. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should be a shamed of crying over the loss of a pet. I would think there was something wrong with you if you don’t grieve and mourn the loss of a pet.
What’s the best part about having dogs in your life?
I’m Italian and I am loud, and occasionally my tone might not be the best, but my dogs have never criticized me for it. I’m so much happier when I’m around my dog; dogs make me less stressful. I hope I die with a dog next to me!
To keep up with Maria and Clarice, become a friend of Maria’s on Facebook, follow Clarice and Friends on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and make sure to listen to her on Q104.3 in New York City or your mobile device.
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