Barbara Venezia...
Stirring the pot of controversy
 one column at a time...

Stasha the wonder dog!

People often ask me what breed Stasha is. 

Her  mom was a Lab and her dad was a Chihuahua. 

My husband and I found her at the Pet Expo at the OC Fair in 2012 and adopted her. 

She's our little rescue fur baby and we love her. 

Stasha loves her picture taken and has quite a personality. I take her everywhere with me and she's been mentioned in many of my columns. 

She's quite popular with readers and sometimes I think she has more fans than I do.

This page is devoted to Stasha and the columns about her!
Shelter gives rescue animals a leg up


Newport Beach annexed West Santa Ana Heights from the county in 2008. During those lengthy negotiations, I chaired the Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency Project Advisory Committee.

One thing the committee fought hard to preserve in the annexation agreement was the dog kennel zoning on Riverside Drive.

It's been years since I visited the area, but recently Stasha the Wonder Dog and I decided to check out the new home of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter located there.

Readers may remember that in November the city terminated its agreement with the Orange County Humane Society amid allegations by city staff of unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the Huntington Beach shelter.

Newport's city shelter is now housed at the Home Free Animal Rescue and Sanctuary at 20302 Riverside Drive.

What's nice about Riverside Drive is that the kennels — including the shelter — are actually at residential homes.

Home Free Animal Rescue and Sanctuary opened in 2010. It's the brain child of Kathy Leonard.

An estate attorney for more than 20 years, Leonard followed her passion for rescuing dogs and bought the property when the original owner, who'd operated a kennel there since the 1950s, died.

The day Stasha and I visited, Valerie Schomburg, Newport's animal control supervisor, was on site and explained how the two different entities co-exist.

Leonard's nonprofit agency rescues only dogs and is a no-kill shelter.

The city animals are housed there too — Leonard's staff cares for them — and the city takes in cats, dogs, birds, etc.

Schomburg says the city tries to reunite animals with owners, while others hope for adoption.

A small percentage are euthanized in situations where animal control has taken in an animal that has either bitten someone, is deemed dangerous or is too ill to survive.

Leonard tells me they are always looking for volunteers to socialize dogs by taking them for walks and to help post on social media the animals in need of adoption.

Home Free Animal Rescue and Sanctuary has a website, and Facebook page,

Schomburg says those interested in the city's dogs and cats can visit the animal control page of the NBPD site,

Both organizations have information on how to adopt animals on their sites. Each has a slightly different procedure.

I was impressed with the cleanliness and the spirit of the city's new animal shelter. It's a perfect fit with Leonard's rescue organization.

After talking with Schomburg and Leonard it became clear that the concept of keeping animals locally within the community is the best approach.

Newport got it right here; it baffles me why Costa Mesa hasn't followed suit. Maybe these two cities should just buy a facility on Riverside Drive and pool their efforts.

How we treat our animals says a lot about who we are and our city leadership.

It was obvious to me that Leonard and Schomburg love what they do.

"Our goal is to save lives," says Leonard.

Walking around and visiting with the animals tugs at your heart. I rescued Stasha at the Pet Expo at the OC Fairgrounds four years ago.

April 22 through 24 Leonard's organization will participate in the 2016 America's Family Pet Expo at the OC Fair and Event Center.

Last year, 45,000 folks attended the event, and "more than 600 dogs, cats and even a few guinea pigs were adopted," says Jennifer Becker, who does public relations for the expo.

Becker estimates more than 9,500 pets have been adopted through this event in conjunction with their Southern California animal rescue partner organizations.

"Since America's Family Pet Expo started more than 25 years ago, the mission of the World Pet Assn. has been to educate consumers about responsible pet care and ownership, says Doug Poindexter, president the World Pet Assn.

I adore this event. I find pet products there I don't find anywhere else, and there are so many species to learn about.

Back again this year are fan favorites like the diving Splash Dogs, the Weiner dog races, dog stunt show and police and protection dog demos.

New for 2016 are mini farm animals and the Camp Rusk Foundation for Retired Horses.

But if you are considering adopting a rescue there are key factors to consider, according to Stasha's trainer, Vladae the Russian Dog Wizard.

He advises clients to make their adoption decisions based on the family's lifestyle, not "how cute or cuddly a particular rescue may look."

Many rescue animals come with behavioral issues that can be trained away, he says, but adoption is a lifetime emotional and financial commitment folks need to be ready to make.

The last thing you want to do is have to return the animal to the shelter because you didn't think this through.


Venezia: Choosing right dog park can be tricky

Aug 21,2015

Are there unforeseen dangers lurking in local dog parks?

I grapple with the issue of how safe it is to take my little rescue dog Stasha to play at them.

We prefer the Bark Park on Arlington Drive in Costa Mesa. It has a fenced-in section for small- to medium-sized dogs, and another for larger dogs.

Stasha has been to both sections. She prefers running the rolling hills with the big dogs and digging in the dirt, but I worry that if, at 30 pounds, she comes in contact with a more aggressive animal she could be in big trouble.

I don't want Stasha to miss out on socialization so I posed the question to her trainer, "Vladae the Russian Dog Wizard."

Stasha's known him since she was 5 months old — she's almost 4 now — and seems to understand every command he utters, even with his endearing Russian accent.

Vladislav Roiytapel — Vladae for short — is quite a character.

Born in the Soviet Union, Vladae trained animals for the Red Army as border patrol and paratrooper dogs for the special forces.

No doubt his credentials are a bit of an overkill when it comes to teaching Stasha to sit and stay, but she adores him.

As busy as Vladae is with his SoCal Dog Training biz, he stopped by last week for a chat about my dog park concerns and offered some sound advice.

It's his opinion taking Stasha to Dog Beach in Huntington Beach is much safer than to any dog park.

That surprised me until I heard his reasoning. Because the beach has no barriers, mainly owners with well-trained animals responding to off-leash commands go there.

In a fenced dog park you don't have that level of trained dog generally, thus behavior is more unpredictable.

Vladae says that when entering, assess the overall energy of the dogs and people.

Introduce dogs side by side so they can smell each other's butts. Vladae says this is "doggie Google," as they learn all they need to know about each other with this behavior.

And look for situations to avoid.

Dogs sitting on laps or under the chairs of their owners could exhibit what Vladae calls "possessive aggression," as your dog approaches.

One of Stasha's favorite pastimes at the Bark Park is chasing along the fence line separating the small and bigger dog park.

Dogs on both sides of the fence run back and forth and bark at each other.

Vladae says this is unhealthy play as energy turns into a drive, then frustration, and ultimately to aggression.

"All of a sudden they start fighting among themselves, and you don't want your dog involved in that," he says.

Bringing balls or toys into the park promotes competition, which could provoke a fight as well since these animals are competitive by nature, he says.

When in the park owners need to pay attention to animal body language, not their electronic devices.

Vladae says dogs communicate via energy and will start to chase a weaker dog. People watch this and think they are playing, but take notice of tail-raising or growling, that's when things can turn ugly and dangerous.

"Stop the chase before it starts" he warns.

What if a dog fight ensues?

Vladae says that's where training and commands come into play, and that could be lifesaving.

But not all dogs in the dog park are well-trained so he suggests a product called Pet Convincer Plus. It fits in the palm of your hand and shoots compressed air with a hissing sound. One spray gets the animal's attention.

Stasha was trained with this device, and it really works.

Another product he recommends is Direct Stop, a citronella-based animal deterrent spray.

Vladae says it's important to keep the animal moving and stay with the dog while in the park.

If you have an uncertain animal, it's wise to keep the dog on a leash and take a walk around with him or her. Or even leave them leashed and let them drag it around. You'll be able to grab or step on it should something bad happen.

"The most important thing is to have control over your dog with command training," Vladae stressed. "I cannot tell you how many dog lives are saved with a recall command."

He also warns those with puppies should not bring them to the dog park as disease and aggressive animals could be especially dangerous for them.

My conversation with Vladae about dog-park dangers was enlightening. The bottom line is any time I take Stasha into an environment where there are so many variables of which I have little control over, she could be at risk.

For now I think it's best her fur buddies visit and play in our yard.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at


The America's Family Pet Expo returns to the Orange County fairgrounds Friday to Sunday.

This annual event has been enjoyed by tens of thousands who love animals.

It's a wonderful place for children to learn about birds, reptiles, dogs, cats, fish and more.

Doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet Assn., producer of the event, told me he can't believe the expo has been around for 26 years.

"I'm old," he joked.

Poindexter started as a vendor at the show years ago and is proud to lead this 60-year-old organization.

"Every year it's so much fun for me," he said. "We work hard all year-round on this show. When the public comes in, and the kids see animals they've never seen before, you see them light up."

Showing kids how much fun pets can be and what life they bring to a family is what motivates Poindexter and his staff.

When we spoke, he shared heartwarming stories of witnessing how animals have touched the hearts and souls of those they've come into contact with at the show.

Several years ago a woman in a wheelchair held a bird and started talking to it. Her husband's eyes filled with tears as he explained that she hadn't spoken for five years.

And watching a Clydesdale walk up to a handicapped child and lay its head on the kid's chest was a moment Poindexter will always remember.

"There was such joy in this child's face," he said.

So what's in store for audiences at this year's show?

Poindexter tells me that the cat show will be bigger. He's also excited to have the dog agility team back after a nearly decadelong hiatus.

New this year: racing pigs.

Hogs and dogs will race, he says, but not each other.

And the ever-popular free-flight bird show is back, as are the "Splash Dogs."

But for me, the most important part of the Pet Expo is what it does for agencies that rescue dogs and cats.

About 70% of the booths at the expo are dedicated to these agencies, Poindexter explained.

Last year alone, more than 700 animals found forever homes as a direct result of the expo.

Poindexter said it's important to remember that agencies have their own rules and standards for adoption. Some animals may be adopted on the spot, while other agencies may require waiting periods.

At the very minimum, people interested in a particular animal should walk around for at least an hour and then come back to the agency's booth, he said.

With the pet's best interest at heart, agencies want folks to understand the enormous responsibility that comes with pet adoption.

Impulse "buys" are discouraged, though that's exactly what Stasha was for me in 2012.

I'd walked into the Pet Expo for the first time out of sheer curiosity and never imagined it would change my life, but it did.

Today Stasha is my constant companion and well known at dog-friendly eateries in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Las Vegas.

My fur baby has everything from a pet stroller to fancy harnesses. The expo is a great place to find unique pet-related products.

It's also a breeding ground for entrepreneurs like Carole George.

Her business, Georgy Girl, manufactures and sells cashmere hoodies and high-fashion, jewel-encrusted harnesses for dogs.

George tells me her three Pomeranians inspired her line since she wanted she wanted fashion to meet function.

"We started with cotton/spandex tank tops and fleece hoodies, decorating them with custom crystals and heat appliques," she said. "I had always wanted to make beautiful leather harnesses that did not choke the dog and looked like a gorgeous handbag or saddlery with great stitching."

George added glitz to the harnesses. She sells her products online and in select pet boutiques. She's even in high-end leather boutiques for people — including West Coast Leather in San Francisco, where I've shopped for years.

She tells me she's excited to be a first-time exhibitor at the expo and hopes it will help to develop and expand business contacts.

George's three Poms will be modeling in her booth, No. 1046, and she'll be offering a 10% to 20% discount on selected products as a show special.

America's Family Pet Expo is billed as a "furtastic weekend full of four-legged entertainment," and Stasha and I highly recommend it.

General admission is $13. The cost is $8 for ages 6 to 12 and $11 for people 60 and older.

Children under 5 are admitted for free, as are active and retired military with identification.

Show hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

The OC Fair and Event Center is located at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. Parking is $7.

Kindly leave all pets at home. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at


Starting from scratch: solving a dog's allergies


Over the last two years, stories related to my little rescue dog, Stasha, have graced this column more than a few times.

She seems to have grown her own doggie fan base, so it wasn’t surprising I received much reader interest in my column last February about pet allergies. and Stasha’s plight with them.

To recap: Stasha’s consistent eye and ear scratching was due to allergies.

Scratching her face area indicated she was suffering from airborne allergens, not food allergies, because then she’d be scratching her body, according to her vet.

Though a daily dose of Benadryl proved helpful, I was on a mission to find out exactly what she was allergic to and explore treatment options.

A blood test at the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Tustin revealed Stasha was being bugged by weeds like lamb’s quarters, cocklebur, ragweed and goldenrod, as well as maple, oak and mulberry trees. She’s also allergic to grasses, a few molds and horse dander.

We live in an equestrian area, but I don’t have any of the trees mentioned in our yard. I’ve never heard of any of those weeds, and Stasha plays on the grassy lawn most of the day.

Realistically, can I keep her away from the things she’s allergic to?

Probably not, but I can give her daily allergy shots or squirt medicine – sublingual antigen – in her mouth twice a day, which I’m doing – to build up her immune system to tolerate these.

Now, after almost a month of treatment, Stasha’s scratching has somewhat subsided, but not a lot. I’m told I need to be patient – medication takes time.

As her vet predicted, Benadryl has stopped working on the really bad itchy days – like after the lawn is mowed.

But in the meantime, I continue to hear from readers with concerns and suggestions for Stasha.

Several talked about a fairly new drug called Apoquel, developed to control allergic itching in dogs.

When I asked about it at the Animal Dermatology Clinic, I was told the demand for the drug is high and it could be summertime before they have it.

I did look on the drug’s website, and its possible side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, and increased susceptibility of infection, concerned me.

I also couldn’t find any information as to the long-term effects, if any, there were on dogs.

Roger Brannen, director of marketing, quality and distributor support for Nature’s Select in Anaheim, a natural pet food company, read the column and also offered some helpful advice.

Even though Stasha doesn’t have food allergies, Brannen suggested changing her diet, giving her a probiotic, and adding a humidifier to her environment to help with her itchy eyes.

Susan Sims, publisher of Fido Friendly Magazine, chimed in with suggestions of other natural and grain-free dog foods I might consider.

With these suggestions in mind, I visited my local PetSmart with Stasha’s trainer, Vladae the Russian Dog Wizard, to look for new food.

Vladae said first-line item ingredients are what are predominant, so we stayed away from brands with starch, wheat and grain mentioned first.

To my surprise, there was no shortage of brands touting labels for “allergic dogs.”

Pet allergies are very common.

Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services at Petplan Insurance, told me over the last several years, allergies have consistently been one of the most common types of claims Petplan sees.

“In both 2013 and 2012, they were No. 5 on our most-claimed for conditions list – up one spot from 2011, when they were No. 6,” he says.

Their data show in 2013, reimbursements for allergies average $500, but costs of diagnostics and treatment can easily reach thousands of dollars over the lifetime of an allergic pet.

When I opened Stasha’s latest edition of Fetch! Magazine, last week published by Petplan, there was a comprehensive article about pet allergies by veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward.

In it, Ward explains all allergies are caused by the immune system going into overdrive when exposed to certain foreign proteins.

And pets can become allergic to foods they’ve eaten over a long period of time. About 20% of pets with allergies are food based.

He also gave a list of dog breeds most predisposed to allergies, among them boxers, certain terriers, German shepherds and poodles.

Allergies are no fun for people or pets. This week I haven’t been able to put on eye makeup for two days because of my own allergies.

At this point, Stasha’s looking far more glamorous than I am.

Contact the writer:

Venezia: Best places your dog can chow down

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Tasty Tidbits column, Barbara Venezia and her rescue dog Stasha find the best dog-friendly eateries.


This week the Tasty Tidbits column celebrates its one-year anniversary in the Current.

Unlike other food columns, Tidbits doesn’t just review the latest hot spots in Newport/Costa Mesa -- rather it discovers and re-discovers fun places with good food.

Article Tab: newport-restaurant-shor-d
Stasha enjoys treats as we dine at SHOR Restaurant at the Hyatt Newport

Readers often ask how I choose the restaurants featured weekly. Most times they’re places I regularly enjoy. But sometimes I pop into an eatery on a whim, or take a reader’s suggestion.

Judging from reader feedback this year, what folks most enjoy about Tidbits is that it reminds them of places they might have forgotten. It also highlights menus and amenities, including if a place is doggie friendly.

Since my little rescue dog Stasha is often with me on these food outings, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite haunts in honor of the Tasty Tidbits anniversary. These are places where the food is good, and their outdoor dining patios are very welcoming to dogs.


Stasha gives these spots her highest rating of “four paws up.”

59th and Lex Café, Bloomingdales at Fashion Island. The entire mall is known for being dog friendly and we love Bloomingdales’ outdoor patio because Stasha and I get to people-pet watch. The restaurant is perfect for an afternoon lunch or dinner with friends -- furry or not -- as you take a break from shopping. The wait staff is very attentive to doggie diners, offering water and treats.

Blue Water Grill, 630 Lido Park Drive in Newport Beach. This restaurant is easily accessible by boat or car. Stasha and I pull up in the Duffy and dock for lunch. She loves being in the boat and this adds to the whole dining outing for us. We often see other seafood lovers and their dogs dining on the spacious outdoor deck overlooking Newport Harbor. It’s one of our favorites because every time we’ve been there, our waitress or waiter has made it a point to fuss over Stasha. Doggies have egos too!

Greenleaf Chop Shop, 234 E. 17th St. in Costa Mesa. Dog lovers are a common sight dining on the outdoor patio deck here. The wait staff always asks if I’d like a water bowl for Stasha. They obviously deal with a good number of animals a day and are comfortable with doggie diners. Greenleaf is known for their use of organic and local ingredients in their made-to-order salads, sandwiches, and seasonal specials. Their second location in the SOCO center is a favorite spot of ours as well.

The Counter 1104 Irvine Ave. in Newport Beach. Located in the Westcliff Plaza shopping center, the doggie friendly patio is probably the place we stop in the most. There’s a big difference between restaurants that are dog friendly and dog welcoming. The Counter is welcoming, and that makes a big difference. I like it because it has ample heaters for those chilly days. Open for lunch and dinner, the Counter offers burgers just the way you like them. Sometimes I order one for Stasha, too.

SHOR American Seafood Grill at the Hyatt Newport Beach, 1107 Jamboree Road. SHOR’s outdoor patio is very pet-welcoming. Tell the waiter you’d like to order something for your pet off their room service menu, and they’ll accommodate you. Items on the doggie menu include: Bowsers Bacon Pancakes, made with eggs, flour, bacon, honey and skim milk; Yappi-tizers, featuring the Buddy Burger with five-ounce beef patty and cheese; and "Tail-waggin' Treats" -- like the Snicker-poodles made with honey, cornmeal, flower, honey and cinnamon. All items are $5.


Café Beau Soleil at the American Rag store near Urban Outfitters in Fashion Island. We enjoy stopping in for coffee and their homemade pastries. This spot serves French food with what they call a “California twist.” Menu items are organic, fresh and popularly priced.

Le Pain Quotidien near Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Express in Fashion Island. This little café bakery has Belgium roots. For lunch try super yummy Tartines - Belgium sandwiches served with organic wheat bread.

Back Bay Bistro, 1131 Back Bay Drive, is tucked away at the Newport Dunes Waterfront RV Resort and Marina. Enjoy waterfront views for lunch, dinner and Saturday and Sunday brunch. The outside patio is very dog friendly. Servers offer water bowls and treats to dining dogs.

DivBar Smokehouse Barbecue, 2601 W. Coast Highway in Newport Beach. Pronounced ‘”dive bar,” this restaurant has a great outside dog friendly patio with high-top tables and a fireplace, making it the perfect spot to dine and drink with Fido.

Wilma’s Patio, 203 Marine Ave. on Balboa Island. This restaurant has two patios. The outside patio is pet friendly, but they suggest calling ahead for a table if you have a dog in tow. The restaurant has a homespun cottage feel to it. They serve lunch and dinner, but we like that breakfast is served until 5 p.m.

Café Rose Express, 1570 Scenic Ave. in Costa Mesa. Owned by Turnip Rose Catering, Café Rose is only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nice menu, very reasonably priced. Tucked away in an industrial area along Scenic Avenue, you’ll find ample parking there as well as lush garden outdoor seating, which is very doggie friendly.

Zov’s, 21123 Newport Coast Drive, is in the shopping center by the Newport Coast Fire Station #8. Zov’s has plenty of parking and is easy to find. The menu is a blend of Middle Eastern, Armenian and Mediterranean food. The outdoor patio is great.

Johnny’s Real New York Pizza, 1320 Bison Ave., is in the Bluff’s shopping center in Newport Beach. There are patio tables with umbrellas throughout the shopping center, making dining at many of the restaurants here pet friendly, including Johnny’s. Johnny’s offers 12-, 16- or 20-inch pizza pies, as well as by the slice.

Waiiha Sushi & Japanese Dining, 3321 Hyland Ave, Suite D in the South Coast Collection shopping center. Waiiha’s patio is pet welcoming with a large white awning and tables. The food here is quite good and popularly priced.

Gypsy Den, 2930 Bristol St. in Costa Mesa. Their outdoor patio is well shaded with large red umbrellas and very pet welcoming. Whether dining inside or out, this rustic motif café is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The bill of fare at Gypsy Den is healthy, hearty and pricing is good too.


In the course of this past year, Stasha and I have also been to some restaurants with outdoor patios that we felt should have been far more dog friendly, but were not.

Here’s who we give paws down to.

Tommy Bahama’s Island Grille, 854 Avocado Ave, in Newport Beach. They let you tie your dog to an outside railing.

Plum’s Café, 369 E 17th St. in Costa Mesa. They only have two tables outside their gate where dogs are allowed.

Just because a restaurant has an outdoor patio, doesn’t mean pets are welcome. A good rule of thumb is to call ahead and ask.

Contact the writer:

Venezia: Learning to talk to the animals - for real

I’m crazy about my little rescue dog Stasha.

Over the last year and a half I’ve grown to understand her behavioral clues indicating when she’s happy, hungry, tired, etc.

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Con Slobodchikoff

But short of her actually talking to me, I can only assume to know what’s going on behind those big brown eyes.

If only there was a device that could translate for us. She could speak English, and I could speak dog.

The idea isn’t as outlandish as you might think.

Opening a recent copy of Fetch Magazine, published by, I was amazed to read about Con Slobodchikoff and his workanalyzing animal sounds and body language and translating them back to us.

My imagination ran wild as I thought about all the conversations Stasha and I could have.

Does she really like the new leopard sweater I bought her? How does she think “Breaking Bad” will end after watching this last season?

I had to track down Slobodchikoff. Turns out he’s one interesting guy.

He’s an accomplished author and lecturer, publishing his most recent book, “Chasing Dr. Doolittle: Learning the Language of Animals” in 2012.

He holds the title of professor emeritus with the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and has devoted the last 40 years to researching animal behavior and communication – in particular that of the prairie dog.

Though these animals are rodents – not dogs – their communication is rather sophisticated, even warning of danger and what specific types of animals are approaching.

“We’ve found these animals, in their alarm calls, are also capable of human description, like height and weight,” Slobodchikoff said in a phone interview.

With artificial intelligence, video, voice and facial recognition software in existence today, he said he hopes within five years to have a device about the size of a cell phone capable of translating animal sounds into English, and English into sounds animals can understand.

“The device or app would use voice recognition that would analyze a dog’s bark,” he said. “It might say – I want to eat chicken. Then you can say, please don’t pee on my drapes,” he joked.

Slobodchikoff tells me 90 percent of what humans perceive from a verbal conversation is based on body language, and only 10 percent on what we actually hear.

The same holds true for dogs.

Because much of a dog’s communication has to do with body language, he’s working on creating an algorithm that would measure the angle of the dog’s tail as it wags, the position of the ears, and head and body movements.

For instance, when a dog wags its tail more to the right than the left, it’s very happy. The human eye can’t see this slight difference, but a computer program can, said Slobodchikoff.

On another level, using voice recognition software could determine the difference in the dog’s barking patterns.

“For many years science thought these animals had nothing to say responding with emotions and instinct, like hunger or thirst, but the more we look at them we find they have a lot to say,” he says.

And the technology could be used to communicate with more than just dogs and cats.

“With further research this could expand to farm animals,” he said. “People are already training horses to move their bodies in certain directions to indicate what they want to eat.”

In his years of studying animal behavior, Slobodchikoff said he’s seen situations where missed communication between dogs and their owners have led to problems in the home.

Pets exhibit anxious or aggressive behavior when their needs are not being understood, he said.

For example – a man complained that every time he got close to his dog, the animal showed its teeth.

It was all about how the hulking 300-pound owner was approaching the animal, Slobodchikoff said.

“I had to explain to him the dog is afraid of you, and you need to give it more space,“ he said.

This is a prime example of where a dog/human communication device would’ve helped.

“With devices like this fewer animals would be in shelters and euthanized,” he said.

So far Slobodchikoff has self-funded his animal communication project. He tells me he’s looking for financial and technical partners to help with it.

I’m surprised some large pet care company or software giant hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon here.

There will be a day when we can communicate with our pets.

And I’m sure whoever does bring this technology to the marketplace first will make millions off of pet owners like me who’ll pay anything to hear what their dogs have to say!

Venezia: TV for dogs soothes the humans, at least

Television has literally gone to the dogs.

On Aug. 1, a 24-hour TV network launched with programming created just for dogs and those who love them.

Article Tab: Register columnist Barbara Venezia and her dog, Stasha.
Register columnist Barbara Venezia and her dog, Stasha.


DogTV is available on DirecTV channel 354, Cox Communications channel 2635, and Time Warner Cable channel 148 during its pilot roll out phase in California.

It's not inexpensive. A month of DogTV is $9.99, a three-month package is $24.99, 12 months is $49.89. You can sign up online or through your cable or satellite carrier.

Based on the premise that TV is an ideal babysitter for dogs home alone, DogTV's programming is touted to "stimulate, entertain, relax and habituate dogs with shows that expose them to various movements, sounds, objects, experiences and behavior patterns, all from a dog's point of view," according to their website,

As nutty as I am about my little rescue dog Stasha, even I thought television tailored for dogs was a bit crazy.

But the concept did intrigue me.

Reading their website it seemed to make sense. Programming alternates between relaxing and stimulating content.

The site says dogs that are left alone tend to become anxious. The calming sounds and music in the relaxing segments on DogTV were created to keep them peaceful.

Stimulating segments show dogs running and playing.

On I watched the short videos featuring experts in canine behavior touting the merits of the network.

In his video, pet psychologist Warren Eckstein explained the problems of leaving dogs home alone and anxiety.

Renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell talked about how DogTV helps dogs cope with their environment.

Nicholas Dodman, a professor and head of the Animal Behavior Department at Tufts University, says he supports scientifically designed TV for dogs.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society said," it's about creating a stimulating environment for them."

Thinking these experts might be on to something, I signed up for a DirecTV special – $4.99 for my first month of DogTV.

The DogTV website suggested I begin by watching it with my dog to alleviate any anxiety she might have watching fellow pooches on screen playing, going to the vet, and napping.

Though I found the programming fascinating, Stasha didn't show much interest.

We've continued to watch Dog TV at least once a day since it premiered.

Stasha's not seeing the wow factor here. She usually dozes within a few minutes or gets up and goes in another room.

Now, I should tell you Stasha watches television regularly with me and has since she was a puppy. She's now a year and a half old.

I leave the TV on for her when she's home alone, and judging from her reaction, she prefers the Cartoon Network. When it's on she watches it intently.

Stasha's quite particular about her TV watching. Sunday night she hid her head with her paws during a rather dicey scene of HBO's True Blood.

After it was over she looked up at me as if to say, "Really mom, vampire porn? Let's go back to watching Sponge Bob."

But all kidding aside, I wondered how DogTV was being accepted by the canine crowd since it premiered.

Was it more popular with owners than dogs – as in my case?

Calls to Atomic Public Relations, which represents DogTV, went unanswered.

Looking for other doggie health professional feedback, I called our pet insurance,, to ask their opinion on the concept.

Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of Veterinary Services at Petplan, had some input.

With the channel being so new, and in a relatively small geographic area, he said they haven't had much feedback from policyholders.

Benson says PetPlan is always happy to see new and innovative forms of environmental enrichment for home-bound pets.

And some dogs just won't be interested, Benson told me.

"If you have a pup that seems to get some enjoyment from the soothing sounds and enhanced colors on DogTV, it certainly won't do any harm – unless you're worried about them getting hooked on 'The Real House-Dogs of Orange County'!" he joked.

I think I'll keep DogTV for a bit longer to see if it grows on Stasha.

The calming music and images are lulling me to sleep every night. At this point I'm probably seeing more benefit in the channel than Stasha is.

Venezia: Discovering doggie daycare

If anyone would've mentioned doggie daycare to me before my little rescue dog, Stasha, came into my life last year, I would've thought they were crazy.

Not so much now.

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The bone-shaped pool.

Though Stasha goes most places with me, there are times she can't.

Leaving her at home for more than five or six hours doesn't make me comfortable.

So who can watch her while I'm away?

I turned to friend and seasoned pet owner, Christie McDaniel for advice.

McDaniel, wife of former Costa Mesa City Manager Alan Roeder, has two dogs and recommended I check out The Bone Adventure doggie daycare.

The Bone Adventure has two locations in Costa Mesa: Bone Home, at 1629 Superior Ave., and Bone Backyard, 2700 Bristol St.

McDaniel's dogs are regulars at Bone Backyard.

She says her dogs love the facility and if they could talk they'd say, "The best part of The Bone Adventure is the staff that care for us. They keep an eye on us, make sure everyone behaves, and they comfort and pet us when we need a little human attention."

With doggie endorsements like that, Stasha and I headed for their facility on Bristol.

The Bone Adventure's owner, Diane Cuniff, says she created her business because she wanted her own three dogs to have a social environment.

She based The Bone Adventure on doggie day care facilities she used while living in LA in the 1990s.

After moving to Corona del Mar she couldn't find anything comparable in the area. So she wrote a business plan and opened her first location, Bone Home, in 2003.

"By the end of the first year we were averaging 40 dogs a day," she told me.

Bone Backyard opened in 2010.

Her goal was to create a place where owners felt comfortable leaving their pets for the day in a friendly, safe and social environment.

Cuniff explained each location is unique.

Bone Home is a much smaller facility than Bone Backyard and is meant to have fewer dogs.

"It's ideal for smaller animals, older dogs, or pets needing more personal attention," Cuniff told me.

Bone Backyard is on an acre of land and is perfect for puppies, and high energy animals that need lots of exercise. There Cuniff says she averages about 110 dogs per day there.

Cuniff's 60 employees move between the two facilities.

When Stasha and I arrived at Bone Backyard, Cuniff met us at the front desk.

Before any animal is admitted, owners need to present current medical documentation showing doggies are current with all shots and is healthy.

Once paperwork is in order, the dog is put through what she calls, "temperament testing".

"We empty an area and put your dog in that area with a staff member and let one dog in at a time," said Cuniff.

The goal here is not to overwhelm or intimate them.

"We don't want to overload them, so we ease them in gradually," she said.

Cuniff likes the dogs to stay for at least two hours to move through any separation anxiety the owner or the dog may experience. Then they are free to come and go as they please she said.

As Stasha and I toured the facility, what most impressed me was how clean and secure it was.

There were no doggie smells, no poop lying around in the yards, and plenty of water bowls.

We walked through grooming area, the gourmet kitchen, and sleeping quarters where dogs have the option of twin size beds, couches or doggie dens for naps and overnight stays.

Once outside, Stasha was introduced in the small dog play area which had a bone shaped wading pool, artificial grass and even lounge chairs under a cabana canopy.

All the doggies came to greet her and she ran off to play.

Touring the large dog area, there was bone shaped pool and doggie playground equipment for them to run through, climb and have fun with.

A full day of doggie daycare costs $42 with pets being dropped off starting at 6:30 a.m. and picked up by 8 .pm. They also offer shuttle service, $10 each way.

Monthly packages – five days a week - costs $610, bringing the daily rate down to $28 per day.

An overnight stay is $60 and packages for multi-night stays are also available.

Bone Adventure suggests sending your dog with their own food, but does offer meals for $2.

Owners can check in on their pets at the Bone Adventure website, , and watch the live doggie-cams, a nice feature for obsessive pet parents like me!

Venezia: Hotel guide for visiting family pets

With summer vacations in full swing, many top hotels and resorts welcome furry travelers.

But before booking a doggie-friendly trip, says Susan Sims, publisher of FIDO Friendly, the travel magazine for you and your dog, it's important to understand there's a big difference between "allowing pets" and "welcoming pets."

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Shor restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach welcomes furry guests to its patio.

"We stay at Fido-friendly hotels that roll out the red carpet by providing pet amenities such as beds, bowls and treats when you check in," says Sims.

She tells me hotels and resorts find it's good for business to market to pet owners.

"Hotels absolutely monetize by welcoming Fido, as they can include a pet fee ranging from $25-$100 per day. Some properties offer dog walking, pet sitting, massage for additional fees," she said.

Sims told me hotels welcoming fur babies find their guests stay longer and spend more when they have their pets with them.

Pet parents don't have to pay for boarding or worry about being apart from their animals if they can travel with them, she says.

So how pet-friendly are some of our top local hotels?

I called around and here's how I've rated them.

The Westin South Coast Plaza, 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, has their pet policy online at, and it welcomes dogs weighing up to 40 pounds. nOver this limit, dogs may be permitted with prior approval. The hotel suggests owners call ahead for details.

The Westin requires dog owners sign a liability waiver at check-in, and cleaning fees may apply. Dogs may not be left unattended in guest rooms. This could be problematic if you don't plan on taking your dog everywhere you go.

Because of this policy, this isn't a place I'd recommend to my visiting friends with dogs, and give this hotel ... paws down.

The Fairmont, 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, also has its pet policy posted online, at The hotel charges $25 per pet, per night, and there's a 30 pound weight limit.

Speaking to reservations, I was told the hotel's room service menu included pet food items. When connected with room service directly, they said they used to have pet items, haven't for a while, and there were no plans to stock any.

Based on fees, weight limit and lack of staff knowledge, I give this hotel ... one paw up.

The Islands Hotel, 690 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, allows dogs up to 50 pounds. There's a $150 non-refundable fee upon check in, and designated floors for pet owners.

There's no-pet friendly restaurant on site, but the room service menu does have one item for dogs: treats with a bottle of water. But after being transferred to four different people, I still did not know what they charge for this.

Considering pricing and the lack of knowledge by their reservation staff, I give this hotel ... one paw up as well.

At The Balboa Bay Club, 1221 West Coast Highway in Newport Beach, there's a $100-per-stay fee for furry friends.

"We welcome all well-mannered, disease-free dogs 50 pounds or under. No more than one dog may occupy each guest room. Pets must be leashed or held in arms in all common areas of our Newport Beach resort. Pets are not allowed in the hotel's restaurants, bar, fitness center, spa, or pool areas," according to

There's no room service menu for pets, either.

Based on pricing, staff was knowledgeable about pet policies, and the fact they allow up to 50 pound dogs, I'd give them ... two paws up.

At the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, 1107 Jamboree Road, dogs less than 45 pounds are charged $50.00 per night.

Its Shor restaurant has an outdoor patio which is pet-friendly. I've taken my dog, Stasha, there and staff was very welcoming offering her treats and a bowl of water. And here's a tip, if you tell the waiter you'd like to order something for your pet off their room service menu, they'll accommodate you.

Items on the doggie room service menu include, Bowsers Bacon Pancakes made with eggs, flour, bacon, honey, and skim milk, Yappi-tizers- featuring the Buddy Burger with 5-ounce beef patty and cheese, and "Tail-waggin' Treats" like the Snicker-poodles made with honey, cornmeal, flower, honey and cinnamon. All items are $5 each.

This hotel gets my highest rating ... four paws up.

I'd recommend it to out of town guests traveling with their doggies.

Venezia: O.C. native kicks off Route 66 dog-adoption drive

Since my husband Stan and I impulsively adopted a rescue Chihuahua-Lab mix puppy at the OC Fair's Pet Expo back in April, I've turned into a crazy dog person.

My little Stasha goes everywhere with me

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Susan Sim's dog Junior at last year's Get Your Licks on Route 66 kick off.

Over the past months, she's gone motor homing, boating, shopping, ghost hunting, and even enjoyed a weekend at The Parker in Palm Springs.

If friends call for a lunch date, unless it's a pet friendly restaurant, I don't go.

I've turned into one of those people I used to make fun of.

I'm obsessed with this little ball of fur and have become a strong supporter of pet adoption. So when my longtime pal Susan Sims, publisher of FIDO Friendly magazine, contacted me this past summer about her fourth pet adoption campaign called Get Your Licks on Route 66, I was excited.

Since she stated this tour, 1,000 pets have been adopted as she travels Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago.

To give you a little background on Sims, she grew up in Anaheim, and was even Miss Anaheim in 1969.

She raised her two boys in Tustin and now lives in Idaho.

We first met in the mid 1980's when she had just started her first publishing venture, The Irvine Spectrum Independent. It ran from 1986 until the economy took a downturn in 1990 and Sims closed it.

It would be 10 years before she'd venture into publishing again.

I wasn't surprised when she started FIDO Friendly magazine in 2000 with her son, Nicholas Sveslosky, who now serves as editor in chief.

She was always crazy about dogs.

Her son was in his last year of college when he urged his mom to try her hand at publishing again. He remembered having so much fun delivering the Spectrum as a kid, she told me.

Sims says since the family often traveled with their dog - and would have to sneak it into places - she felt it was time someone focused on where dogs would be welcomed.

"Twelve years ago not many places were pet-welcoming," she says. "Now they are all over the place. We have the most fun traveling to review hotels and destinations with our dogs, Junior and Jake."

FIDO Friendly comes out four times a year and offers subscriptions for both online and hard copy versions of the publication. There's even an app for smart phones and pads that can bedownloaded off their website.  

The magazine opened a whole new world for me as a first-time pet owner, offering tips on traveling with your dog, and what destinations welcome you both.

There are regular features on pet wellness, training, fashion, nutrition and reviews of the latest trendy pet products.

In 2008, along with her husband Greg and their newly-adopted black Lab named Junior, Sims launched Get Your Licks on Route 66 – a cross-country tour designed to draw attention to the importance of pet adoption.

"It is just so important for people to realize that you can find great pets in shelters," Sims says.

When we spoke over the summer she was looking for a spot to kick off this year's event. I suggested she start in Orange County since this is her home town.

She tried. She pitched the idea to the Irvine Co. for a launch in Fashion Island since it's such a dog-friendly shopping place.

They didn't bite.

She had no luck with the OC Fairgrounds either.

So the tour will kick off from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Saturday, Oct. 6. in Van Nuys at LA Animal Services East Valley, 14409 Van Owen St.

On hand will be the tour's official spokeswoman, Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet's hit TV show, "It's Me or the Dog".

As Get Your Licks moves along Route 66, it will stop at partner animal shelters to encourage adoptions. Animal Radio, Ford, Petfinder, and Pet Plan Pet Insurance will sponsor the adoption stops, which will feature games, fun, and plenty of cute pets to adopt.

One lucky adopted pup will be chosen to appear on the cover of an upcoming issue of FIDO Friendly magazine.

"It's a way for me to give back and raise awareness for homeless pets," Sims says.

I can't imagine life without our little Stasha, which is why both of us will be in LA for the kickoff of Get Your Licks on Route 66.

As Sims always says, "don't shop – adopt."

Check here for details of the tour and city stops

Venezia: A wonderful year with Stasha

This is my first Christmas as a dog owner.

Readers may remember in April I visited the Pet Expo at the OC Fairgrounds and impulsively adopted a little a Chihuahua lab mix rescue dog we named Stasha.

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Stasha and Barbara Venezia ready for Christmas.

Since then with the help of Vladae the Russian Dog Wizard we're now both well trained.

Stasha's appeared in my column and on Facebook from time to time this year and has developed her own fan base.

As we shop around town and eat in pet friendly restaurants, she's recognized. Readers are far more excited to meet her than they are to meet me.

She's usually decked out in colorful sweaters and eagerly poses for pictures with folks.

Readers often ask what she's been up to. Over the last 10 months, Stasha's been a busy girl.

In Palm Springs she stayed at the Parker Hotel, where she charmed everyone.

It was my first hotel experience with her. I used Starwood miles for the stay, but they told me there'd be a "nominal charge" for Stasha.

Upon check out I found out the nominal charge was $150 per night for the dog!

These days I check for pet welcoming hotels on and pay a bit closer attention to those nominal charges.

Stasha's made some great friends. She loves visiting her best buddy Mojo – another rescue – who now lives in the Hollywood Hills.

On more than one occasion, O.C. Register columnist Frank Mickadeit has been her babysitter.

One evening while I was out, I asked if he'd just stop by and walk her. I came home to find the two of them on the couch watching television.

Her uncle Frank – as we call him – said she'd convinced him to stay and hang out.

It's no wonder he's so good with her, in 1999 Mickadeit wrote the book, "Dogs on the Couch: Behavior Therapy for Training and Caring for Your Dog," which you can still find online.

He's her own special dog whisperer!

Thanksgiving Day Stasha celebrated her first birthday with a weekend trip in the motorhome to Ocotillo Wells.

But this little cutie has had her challenges recently. About four months ago she started limping. We thought she might have just pulled something running and playing.

A trip to the vet revealed something more serious.

The next thing we knew we were at Veterinary Surgical Specialists in Tustin seeing anorthopedic vet.

I had no idea a medical complex like this existed in Orange County. It was so high tech, offering specialists in dentistry, ophthalmology, oncology, orthopedics and neurology for animals.

Turns out Stasha had a birth defect in her left leg. One of her bones was growing crooked, placing pressure on the elbow and causing the limp. If the leg wasn't fixed she could eventually have serious trouble walking.

This was a side of pet ownership I wasn't emotionally prepared for. The idea of putting her through surgery was tough.

Three weeks ago Stasha was operated on by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tony Cambridge.

Her Petplan Insurance covered 80 percent of her medical bills, which were over $2,000.

She came home with a purple cast on her leg and five different medications.

One friend suggested I try her pain pills so I'd know what she was experiencing – that's when I realized I need smarter friends.

Through it all, Stasha's been a model patient.

Her stitches came out last week and she still has another three weeks of recovery ahead of her, but it's not slowing us down during Christmas season.

I needed to figure out how Stasha could keep her busy holiday schedule and not walk on the leg.

A pet stroller was the answer on for about $90.

I thought the price was a bit steep – until I called a pet boutique in Fashion Island and found out their strollers started at $300.

This past weekend Stasha and her stroller enjoyed the Naples boat parade festivities in Long Beach.

Uncle Frank was along too, and mentioned how creepy it was that we were both dressed alike in our red Santa jackets!

What can I say, at least the dog didn't have the same candy cane-colored wig I did.

This weekend she'll be attending several parties with other furry friends and will enjoy Newport's Christmas Boat parade in her stroller.

Adopting this dog has been an amazing experience and probably saved her life.

If a pet is on your Christmas list, contact a shelter and consider a rescue animal.

You'll be glad you did.

Merry Christmas...

As a new OC Fair board member, my husband Stan Tkaczyk is interested in everything that happens at the OC Fairgrounds. He even spent a few days in our motor home to familiarize himself with the operation and the staff.

So it was no surprise when last Saturday morning he wanted to stop by the Pet Expo to check it out.

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Stasha happy at her forever home with Barbara Venezia after being adopted at the Pet Expo.

We've never had a pet. We've talked about it from time to time over the past 23 years, but never felt we were ready.

Most of our friends have dogs or cats. I've watched some of them crazily overindulge their pets and swore I'd never join those ranks.

Never say never.

As we walked into the Pet Expo, our very first stop was Pets Forever Found K-9 Rescue.

In a pen were the cutest mixed breed puppies frolicking.

Among the chaos was one sitting quietly; our eyes met.

The next thing I knew Stan was holding her and it was love at first sight. As they both looked up at me, my husband asked, "Do you think we could have a dog?"

Time stood still, my thoughts raced. This is a big responsibility, are we grown up enough?

A few weeks ago I'd written a column about emotionally disturbed pets - suppose this puppy's crazy?

As I was thinking of all the reasons why I should say no, I said yes.

With so many animals needing rescue, how could I not say yes? This 5-month-old puppy needed a family, and even if we didn't have a clue as to how to raise her, we were fun and she'd have a good life.

Within 15 minutes we were the new owners of this adorable Chihuahua–Labrador mix.

This is a weird combo for sure; someone must have had a step ladder is all I can say.

One of the nice things about adopting a rescue animal is that most rescue organizations will have already taken care of shots, micro-chipping, and neutering before they put an animal up for adoption, as was the case here.

We filled out some simple paperwork, made a $150 donation and off we went.

On the walk to the car, Stan named the dog Stasha, which is Polish for Stacy, after his mom.

My mother-in-law had a wicked sense of humor and I'm sure she's looking down from heaven laughing at us two goofs with a dog.

I told my husband, "We can't turn into crazy dog people." He agreed - then we bought her a pink rhinestone dog collar at the swap meet.

We realized dogs need stuff, next stop PetSmart, where I turned pet stupid.

Stasha now has a pink floral life vest for when she goes boating, and an array of items perfect for motor homing. I drew the line at pet clothing, though overindulged in grooming products since every girl needs to feel pretty and smell nice.

Then I got really hokey and posted photos with our new puppy on Facebook. Friends were shocked! We're the last people in the world any of them ever expected would get a dog.

Congratulatory messages were plentiful.

The phone was ringing off the hook.

Friends stopped by all weekend to meet our new family member.

One girlfriend wanted to know if I would be having professional photos taken of our dog for doggie announcements.

Another brought by gourmet cookies from a dog bakery. I had no idea such a thing even existed! Apparently, there's a whole new doggie product world for me to explore.

Though she's a bit young for anything other than puppy kibble, I cracked open the "At Home on the Range" cookbook to re-familiarize myself with the recipe that catapulted us to fame - our homemade dog food.

It was the most requested recipe on our cooking show, getting rave reviews from dogs and their owners.

This is the original John Crean recipe:

Four cups of cooked instant rice, two large shredded carrots , one pound of cooked navy beans, two shredded potatoes, three pounds of 30 percent fat hamburger , four eggs, one teaspoon of salt, one quarter cup of wheat germ, and four teaspoons of beef bouillon.

Mix this all together and place in a large baking pan. Bake for an hour and a half at 350 degrees.

This can be refrigerated and re-served to your dog for up to two weeks.

Guess I'm officially turning into a crazy obsessive dog person and loving every minute of it.

See Barbara's Bit video on the pup adoption