In Los Angeles, Shelter Dogs Have a Loyal Friend

Found Animals Foundation is the excellent non-profit organization in Los Angeles that is making great strides intackling the heartbreaking problem of pet overpopulation through innovative...

Found Animals Foundation is the excellent non-profit organization in Los Angeles that is making great strides intackling the heartbreaking problem of pet overpopulation through innovative spay-neuter and microchippping initiatives.

The man who startedFound Animalsis Dr. Gary Michelson,billionaire medical inventor, who feels so strongly aboutthe importance of spay-neuter that he endowed the MichelsonPrize in Reproductive Biology, which will offer $25 million to the first entity to provide the Foundation with a safe, effective, and practical non-surgical sterilant for use in cats and dogs.

A very private man, Michelson doesn’t give interviews too often, so Dogster was lucky to secure a sit-down with himat his Los Angeles home. Making themselves perfectly at home inMichelson’sliving room during ourtalk werehis beloved K9 crew: the pit bulls Bull and Honey (two of the most adorable, affectionatedogs I have ever met); a German Shepherd named Abby; and Princess Grace the Whippet.

Obviously Michelson could have any dog he wanted – even if he had to import a pet from overseas or, say,a distant planet. And yet he chooses to adopt dogs from his local animal shelter.

Michelson remembers the first timehevisited amunicipal animal shelter. The yearwas 2002, andhe was seeking to curethe nuisance of ducks and geese living onthe Venicecanals, where he lived at the time. “The city was killing these birds because they said they carried disease,” he recalls. “So I went to the shelter to see if it was possible to move them out humanely.”

That’s when he saw dogs behind bars for the very first time. “It changed me,” he says. “I was surprised. These animals deserved a life, andI realized that if I go to a breeder for a dog, one of these dogs would die.”

From that day forward, Michelsonhas beena committed adopter whotirelessly urges his fellow dog lovers to choose the adoption option. “Every time you go to get a dog from a breeder, a dog in a shelter dies,” he says simply. “You make a choice: Save a dog or kill one. And 50 percent of the dogs that are killed here in Los Angeles shelters are pit bulls.”

Thesetoo-often misunderstood dogshave a passionate, dedicatedadvocate in Dr. Gary Michelson. “I’ll give you a sworn affidavit that, one by one, pit bulls are some of God’s best work,” he says. “I’ve rescued two of them, and they’re absolutely gifts. All dogs are great, but pit bulls especially – you couldn’t find a dog that has better qualities than a pit bull. The fact that people choose to abuse them is beyond me. This is one of my real passions.”

Michelson recalls the era when Dobermans suffered the same image problem that pit bulls experience today. “A friend of mine had a Doberman, and this was the sweetest, gentlest dog I’d ever seen, and the smartest,” he says. “You could actuallywatch this dog problem-solve.”

But when out walking withhis friend’sDoberman at the height of the public’s fear of this breed, Michelson recalls, “It was like Casper the friendly ghost – people would jump out into the street to avoid this dog. And he just wanted to kiss everybody!” Fads in ‘fearsome’ dogs have changed over the years, from German Shepherds to Dobermans to Rottweilers – and today, pit bulls are the friendly ghosts of the dog world. “The ‘bad’ dog keeps rotating,” Michelson explains.

As for the pit bull’s ‘vicious’ reputation, Michelson cites an interesting detail about the infamous Michael Vick affair. “If you review [Vick’s] statements, they were destroying most of the pit bulls [at Bad Newz Kennels] because they couldn’t get them to bite! Pit bulls are smart, formidable, capable, sturdy… but unless you can overcome their natural instincts, they don’t bite. These are not vicious animals.” As proof, Michelson indicates his beloved dog Bull, a.k.a. “Bubby,” a gentle giant at 100 pounds, calmly snoozing by the sofa.

“This guy right here – you could have hot chicken in your hand, and if youwere to offer him some, you’d never feel his lips. One time at the beach, there wasa very annoying, shrieking kid who started filling Bull’s ears up with sand. The kidwas packing the dog’s ears with sand, and Bull was licking him so gently! To watch him around kids is unbelievable.”

Incidentally, Michelson is also a cat lover who rescued and adoptedtwo foundling felines, a 23-pound tom named BBH (short for Bowling Ball Head) and BBH’s dainty, petitegirlfriend, Lil’ Stuff. “There was nothing I could go out and purchase that would have given me as much joy as those two stray cats that God gave me,” Michelson says.

That priceless, unconditionallove is available to everyone, he concludes. “Anybody can have this – it’s right there. People spend money at breeders when you can get these things for free, or for the low cost of an adoption fee. It’s an eye-opener, and it changes what you value most.”

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