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Julia Szabo

Journalist and author Julia Szabo wrote the Pets column for the Sunday New York Post, for 11 years and now pens the "Living With Dogs" column for Dogster.com. Follow her on Twitter @PetReporter1. Photo credit: Daniel Reichert
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In Defense of the Pit Bull

Saturday, October 27th, 2012 - by Julia Szabo

Today, October 27, is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. Whether you are for pits or against them, it’s important to remember, in this election season, that these dogs were once a proud symbol of American virtue and valor, appearing in World War I propaganda posters as an emblem of our country’s courage.

All month long, dog advocates have been working hard to get the word out that at many animal shelters across this country, as many as 90 percent of the deserving dogs awaiting adoption are all-American pit bulls or pit mixes. And yet too often these dogs are overlooked or given a wide berth because potential adopters are so terrified by horror stories about pit bulls they’ve heard in the mainstream media — which, as we’ve seen before, doesn’t spill much ink on, or give much air time to, pits who perform heroic deeds or spread cheer at hospitals and nursing homes; sensational stories about dog attacks are deemed more “newsworthy.”

Surprisingly, one major mainstream media player has taken a huge step to help raise awareness of pit bulls: Hugely popular, handsomely compensated Sirius XM talk-show host Howard Stern, one of the MSM’s most powerful players (if not its MVP), leveled criticism at Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and convicted animal abuser Michael Vick over Vick’s decision to acquire a pet dog (the type and gender of which has not been revealed).

Here are some choice excerpts from Stern’s rant:

“Well, when I saw the news I was dumbfounded. It baffles the mind, really. Here’s what you gotta think: Everything has calmed down for this guy, he’s got his career back on track … things are quiet. So, instead of keeping things quiet, the way he should, he decides he’s going to get a dog. I mean, what the [expletive] is that all about? It’s like if somebody is convicted for being a child molester then moves next door to a playground — you don’t do it…. Michael Vick should never own a pet.”

“This is no different than Rihanna getting back together with Chris Brown. You sit there and go, What kind of crazy move is this?”

“Get the dog away from him. There should have been something written where he could never own a dog. You know, it’s like if I was convicted of taking five Koreans and locking them in my basement and making them sex slaves, then I get out and the first thing I do is move a Korean in with me.”

“Isn’t there someone in his life that says, ‘Listen, Michael, You’re a dopey guy, you’re a big, dumb [expletive] jock. You’re a football player. Let me think for you. You cannot have a dog. You can’t have a cat. You can’t have a hamster, you [expletive]! You blew it. If you really want a pet, it’s not in this lifetime. And your kids when they get older can get one.’”

“I mean, no one sits this guy down, from a p.r. standpoint? This [expletive] guy should not be around dogs. He’s got a hostility to these dogs. I don’t know what happened in his life, but he shouldn’t be allowed to be near a … it’s crazy.”

“I mean, why would he stir this up? He’s insane. This guy’s insane, that’s all. Of course he’s insane. Who could look at a little dog and kill it? That [expletive] maniac.”


Stern was, of course, responding to the outrage felt by many of this country’s animal lovers, who were appalled to learn — via a Twitter photo of Vick’s young daughter doing her homework at the family kitchen table, an image that was quickly photoshopped to redact a telltale box of Milkbone biscuits in the background — that Vick is now a dog owner again, despite having pleaded guilty, in 2007, to the federal felony of dogfighting. Among Vick’s more heinous acts during his stewardship (if such it may be called) of Bad Newz Kennels was — by his own admission — hanging, electrocuting, drowning, and savagely beating dogs to death.

I’m no fan of Michael Vick, as I’ve made clear before. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I distinctly recall Howard Stern singing a distinctly different dog tune back in 1988 or 1989, long before he signed his famously lucrative 2006 satellite deal, back when his base was the radio station WXRK.

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Why High Fashion Was So Much Better in the 1950s

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 - by Julia Szabo

There’s a new documentary out of Italy that’s making the rounds in film circles, and followers of fashion — by which I mean everyone, because don’t we all need to get dressed in the morning? — should take note. It’s called “Schuberth: l’Atelier della Dolce Vita,” and it’s a charming profile of Emilio Federico Schuberth, a designer of alta moda (high fashion) in Rome during the heyday of Cinecitta.

Active from the 1940s through the 1960s, Schuberth was the “tailor to the stars.” The fashion faithful made pilgrimages to his atelier on the Via Condotti; his creations were worn by Rita Hayworth, Brigitte Bardot, Princess Soraya, Sophia Loren, and Gina Lollobrigida. In a 1954 photograph, we see Lollobrigida chatting with Marilyn Monroe; with its sensuous silhouette and artful draping, the Italian actress’s pink Schuberth dress is infinitely superior to the frankly unimaginative white conical-bra-with-skirt number worn by our brainy, busty blonde.

Now, remember that scene in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita where ellegantly attired models navigate a catwalk, while there at the back, a shy young woman stands with her clipboard, sweetly melting with excitement to be part — even peripherally — of such a stylish scene? That’s a Schuberth fashion show. And today, so many years on, that celluloid parade of poetry in motion still has the power to move viewers to want to pursue a career in fashion.

Even those who were destined to follow fashion as a career, the ones born into garment-business families — like Carla Fendi and Lavinia Biagiotti, who both provide commentary in the film — take on the air of starstruck teens at an early Beatles concert when speaking of Schuberth. At the height of his fame, Schuberth was called the “Italian Dior.” But such is his ongoing relevance that today he invites comparison to designers who rose to fame after him: Gianni Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier.

Today, Schuberth the fashion icon is largely forgotten. Googling the name yields … a German manufacturer of motorcycle helmets and protective headgear for Formula One racers and industrial workers. Everyone’s familiar with Valentino, the designer beloved by movie stars who got his start in fashion at Schuberth’s atelier, as the style sorceror’s apprentice. But Valentino’s first boss was a prescient pioneer, a marketing genius with an ambition that dwarfed his already-small petite stature.

Well before Halston would make his memorable appearance on TV’s “The Love Boat” in 1981, surrounded, rock-star-style, by model-groupies wearing his designs, Schuberth knew how to make the scene, a pack of live, Schuberth-clad mannequins always in tow. He was a pioneering publicity hound, delighted to appear in countless promotional newsreels and even going so far as to milk his own daughter’s nuptials for maximum attention — engraved on the wedding invitation was the fashion credit “gown by Schuberth,” long before Joan Rivers and an army of red-carpet commentators would focus media attention on award-show attire.

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Why Our Pets Have Better Health Care Than We Do

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 - by Julia Szabo

Why can’t doctors be more like vets? With medical breakthroughs quietly taking place in the field of animal medicine, it’s a question more Americans should be asking — whether or not they have pets.

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets have access to more superior medical care than humans do. Dogs that suffer from arthritis may undergo stem cell regeneration therapy, in which their own autologous (adult) stem cells are harvested from their own fatty tissue and then injected into their joints. The healing benefit is remarkable, as I have witnessed myself with two of my own dogs. Unfortunately, this particular therapy is not yet available for humans in the United States.

Meanwhile, in Florida late last year, a Yorkshire terrier underwent a routine spay procedure, but something went very wrong during the anesthesia process and the dog emerged from resuscitation with cortical blindness. Veterinarians advised the dog’s owner that euthanasia might be the kindest option in this case. Then, a quick-thinking vet at Calusa Veterinary Center in Boca Raton suggested hyperbaric oxygen therapy; with nothing to lose, the dog’s heartbroken owner consented. Thirty-five HBO2 treatments later, the dog’s blindness was reversed.

Meanwhile, hyperbaric medicine is available to human patients with one of 15 Medicare-approved conditions — but alas, cortical blindness is not one of them. Dogs, on the other hand, may receive hyperbaric treatment for a much broader range of medical conditions — about 50 — so the chamber is being used to address problems ranging from Lyme disease to pancreatitis.

Veterinarian Diane Levitan, of Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care in New York, also offers her clients hyperbaric medicine for their animals. “Hundreds of thousands of people have been helped by HBO2, and it will help innumerable animals,” Levitan says. “Most of what we vets do is a result of what’s practiced by doctors on people; experiments are performed on dogs and mice and other animals, but this is one of the few situations where that’s reversed, and we’re applying a treatment modality to animals that humans tried first. It would be great if the human medical community would embrace HBO2 more. Hyperbaric medicine is not in the forefront of people’s minds, but it would be great if it could be in the forefront of physicians’ minds. That would create more cases, so that Medicare could see evidence-based medicine — and more people could be helped.”

It doesn’t help matters that the mainstream media reports on HBO2 with the same disparagement it normally reserves for stories on adult stem cells. The MSM sensationalized HBO2 by showing the late Michael Jackson asleep in his own private hyperbaric chamber, then trivialized the treatment by citing Keanu Reeves’ use of HBO2 for insomnia. If you get your news only from the MSM, you’d be convinced that HBO2 is just another one of those dangerous, experimental treatments that smack of quackery, just like adult stem cell therapy, and should be avoided like the proverbial plague.

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Why Vertigo Beat Citizen Kane to Become Top-Rated Film

Friday, August 10th, 2012 - by Julia Szabo

The online dating site Ashley Madison has some 15,200,000 members and a catchy slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair.” Don’t tell that to John “Scottie” Ferguson. He’s the protagonist of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which as of last week ranks number one among the Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time, the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound critics’ film poll (“the only one serious movie people take seriously,” according to Roger Ebert).

The BFI re-ranking bumped Citizen Kane into second place after decades in the top spot — and everyone has something to say about it. On the Sight & Sound Directors’ Top 10 list, Vertigo ranks number 7, although its worshipful fans include Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin. So why is Hichcock’s magnum opus suddenly so popular that it displaced the m.o. of Orson Welles?

Vertigo is a trivia treasure trove with infinite appeal to film geeks; there’s even a fascinating back story to the captivating portrait of Carlotta (the first version was painted by Italian abstract artist Manlio Sarra, but the one used in the movie is the work of John Ferren). Still, despite the legions of film geeks out there, that’s not the most compelling reason for its recent dramatic rise in acclaim. Just as the internet has become, as cinema scholar Ian Christie writes in his intro to the Sight & Sound poll, “almost certainly the main channel of communication about films,” the ‘net is also now the worldwide relationship hub. And Vertigo is the saddest, most stunning and true-to-life love dramatization of a fear that resonates with us all, especially if we’ve taken a dip in the online-dating sea: fear of falling in love.

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What Happens to Unwanted Dogs When They’re Not Adopted

Monday, June 18th, 2012 - by Julia Szabo

The Obama 2012 campaign is panting to give first dog Bo a starring part in its re-election bid, prominently featuring the handsome Portuguese water dog in official campaign advertisements and fundraising efforts in an effort to court the canine-loving contingent. One of those efforts is “Bark for Obama,” a cute collection of designer dog apparel; consulting on the collection was none other than Obama’s most fashionable fundraiser, Vogue’s Anna Wintour (who is known more for her love of fur coats than live animals, but whatever).

It’s all a sad reminder of how the president missed a golden opportunity to help a tragically under-represented American demographic. In 2009, after winning many dog lovers’ hearts by hinting at the possibility that his family would adopt a shelter mutt, the president instead accepted the gift of a purebred pup from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Had he made good on his promise to scoop an underdog from one of the country’s many overburdened animal shelters, the gesture would have gone a long way toward reversing the nation’s crushing homeless-dog crisis. The all-American mutt would’ve gained overnight celebrity as a status hound. But instead of casting their vote for the all-American mutt, copycats bought … Portuguese water dog puppies.

Now, a new documentary reveals, in graphic detail, just what that missed opportunity has cost the dogs of America. It’s called One Nation Under Dog, and it airs tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO, as the opening film of the annual HBO Summer Documentary Series.

There’s no question that we Americans love our dogs. There are 78.2 million owned dogs in the United States, and statistics from the American Pet Products Manufacturing Assocation show that we spend some $50 billion per year on their care, feeding, and other amenities. If we love dogs so much, then how come so mind-bogglingly many of them — a conservative estimate puts the number at about 4 million — are killed at our country’s animal shelters every year? That’s the hard-nosed question posed by One Nation Under Dog.

Subtitled “Stories of Fear, Loss & Betrayal,” it presents, in anthology format, stories of individual dogs and people that will haunt you. One Nation Under Dog is rated TV-MA (for mature audiences) because, among other things, it reveals in graphic detail what happens to unwanted dogs at animal shelters when they’re not adopted.

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