Actually, Bruno is not from hell—he’s from Woodland Hills. At least, that’s where our friends Deborah and Ron Kaye found him in 2005, lurking in the bushes in front of their house. Deborah admits to being scared of the stocky creature, a pit bull-Shar-pei mix whose stripy velvet coat was marred with mange and whose lopsided grin was studded with teeth as crooked and broken as an old graveyard.
“Ron said: ‘Maybe you should feed him, he might be more dangerous if he’s hungry,’ ” Deborah recalled over lunch with Heidi and me on Wednesday at in Studio City. (The covered patio makes it a great place to eat outside on a rainy day with a pooch).
From there, the beast was only a trip to the vet away from moving into the house and Deborah’s big heart. But Deborah, former parent of a sweet purebred Corgi named Georgia, was unprepared for this rough-edged adoptee, a blend of two different brands of fighting dog who’d apparently not had a home of his own for a long time, if ever. He became so attached to his house and his new mom that he became a whirling dervish of possessiveness, attacking anything that threatened his new kingdom.
Every time I hear news of Bruno, he’s done a bad, bad thing. His rap sheet includes breaking the front window three times in an attempt to get at the postman; biting the pool man; terrifying visitors and causing Deborah to suffer various falls, lacerations and broken glasses during walks because even the dog’s heavy choke chain couldn’t prevent him from dragging her along when he decided she needed his protection from another passing dog. Due to some puppyhood trauma, he flips out when he sees vans on the street, especially vans driven by short men.
“He eats grass, and you just know if he goes into the bushes and does too much sniffing, he’s going to come out with a hamburger,” Deborah says, wrinkling her nose at this scavenger habit. “He’s always looking for old meat. You just know someone threw this dog out. I know this dog was thrown out of a van by a bunch of short men.” We were laughing, but that just might be true. Thrown out of a van driven from hell to Woodland Hills.
Thousands of dollars have been spent on training – including sending Bruno away to boot camp. One trainer threw up his hands and gave up, declaring Bruno bad to the bone. Julie Iles of Lockwood Canine Training Center of Frazier Park has been a savior for Bruno, reaching him when no one else can, but for mere mortals, he’s tough to control. He continues to split his head open on a regular basis trying to get at a neighbor’s dog through the wooden fence.
The Kayes, always party people, have found themselves avoiding entertaining because the question always arises: “What are we going to do with Bruno?” “He changed our lives,” Deborah says.
Among Bruno’s crimes: Attacking Heidi the first time she came over to the Kaye house to meet him. We all thought it would be fun. As was her usual habit, Heidi trotted up to the porch and nosed the front door open. Out blasted the howling Bruno, clearly planning to kill her. I was shocked into uselessness, but my husband Alan jumped in between and fended Bruno off with one hiking boot.
Deborah and Alan quickly put both dogs on leashes and we all managed to walk them around the block not too far apart from each other, although that distance widened when Bruno lunged at Heidi again. And then we held a polite conversation in the living room with both dogs in the “down” on the floor, widely separated, with a grinning Bruno keeping an eye on Heidi while Heidi sat very quietly, drooling and shedding the way she does when she’s very, very nervous.
It was weird – like, you know, sitting in a friends’ home sipping wine after your husband has kicked their kid in the head. Heidi was obviously not going to visit again when Bruno was around. For Deborah and I, our dream of doing “dog things” together vanished that day. We were mad. We wanted to make the dogs love each other. We even considered contacting trainer Cesar Millan to see if we could get the dogs on his show so he could “whisper” them into being friends, but we never got up the nerve to bring them together again for the required videotape.
But I always feel a bit responsible for Bruno, because Heidi’s rescue had served as inspiration for Deborah to take in Bruno after several years of having no dog at all. We had even tried to fix Deborah up with another dog that was . Plus, Deborah says, other friends and neighbors were “evangelical” about the wonderful act of rescuing a dog (not that anyone else was willing to pull the mangy mutt out of the trees and haul him to the vet). We were all part of a self-righteous team that encouraged a gentle Corgi person to take in…well, Bruno.
Deborah says that, in a way, she has loved Bruno more than any dog she’s ever had because he needs her more than any other dog she’s ever had. Plus, she never feels afraid walking Bruno at night because he scares everybody off. And you know what, although I can’t speak for Heidi, I love Bruno, too -- even though he once ate the pocket off my jacket because he didn’t know all the biscuits were gone. His fur is so soft, and this bad dog tries harder to be a good dog than any good dog ever did.
Still, Deborah believes there’s a book to be written about the dark side of rescuing dogs; it’s not always a Hollywood story, and not all dogs have professional photographers offering to take their picture when they go out to lunch like Heidi does (we can thank Lowell Taylor of Agoura for one of today’s shots). Not all dogs do lunch. Bruno doesn’t. “This is not the kind of dog I ever wanted to have,” Deborah says. “I don’t think I would take a fighting dog out of a bush again.”