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Dog advocate uses pets to teach love, acceptance

petnews
May 15th, 2003, 11:17 PM
Dog advocate uses pets to teach love, acceptance
By Lori Porter
Acorn Staff Writer


When Bob Ferber, a prosecutor with the L.A. city attorney’s animal protection unit, was told he had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant to survive, he began conventional treatments and waited for a transplant. But with a donor waiting in the wings, Ferber declined when he discovered that he’d have to get rid of his pets because his immune system would be severely weakened during recovery.

Now, three years later, Ferber is alive and doing well on treatments from a new drug named Gleevec. And last Saturday, as he now oft does, Ferber and friends visited The Wellness Community Center in Thousand Oaks to share their stories with kids whose parents have cancer.

Ferber never says "no" to a dog in need. He supports many dogs and cats that would have died from neglect or been put to sleep because something was "wrong" with them.

Saturday, Ferber brought along Trapper, a German Shepherd-mix, who got his name after he lost his right paw in a trap. Another was A.J. a blind Llasa Apso, who walks with confidence using his hearing and smell to navigate. A.J. brought along his best pal, Baron von Drooler, a rottweiler.

According to Ferber, Baron’s story sends a very powerful message. Baron, not at all handicapped, was going to be put to sleep simply because of his breed. Most people see these dogs as vicious, and Baron was stereotyped and condemned. Ferber saved Baron, and uses his story to teach children at local schools lessons of racism and prejudice.

What makes his message so powerful is that he uses his dogs to teach "main stream" kids that other children with special needs, such as those who are disabled or in need of special education, are not bad or useless just because they are different.

Ferber brought a very touching and poignant message to four kids at the center whose moms all have cancer. He talked about his own battle with cancer and how after undergoing chemotherapy he lost all of his hair.

"My friends didn’t call me because they didn’t know what to say," Ferber said. "That made me feel very sad and alone."

He talked about how people would stare at him, and how isolated he felt from the rest of the world. He used each of his dog’s disabilities as an example of how living creatures are all different in many ways, but that does not mean they are useless.

Ferber showed how A.J., his blind pet, can find him just by listening to his voice. A.J. walked from one side of the room to the other side to join Ferber without any effort. When Ferber first brought A.J. home, he said it took the little dog only an hour to learn his way around.

Ferber also taught the kids how to approach a strange dog, showing them to give the dog their hand so it could sniff them first. "Always ask the dog’s owner if it is OK to pet the dog." He said. "Don’t ever look a strange dog directly in the eyes and never run from a dog."

Ferber also shared about the pain we all feel when we experience loss. He said that when one of his animals is too sick, he takes all the other pets to the vet to say good-bye. He said that animal friends also feel loss, and that seeing their friend go helps them deal with that loss.

"I love dogs a lot," said Nick Hyland, a 10-year-old who comes to the Wellness Community for a support group because his mother has breast cancer. The Wellness Community offers this support group for kids two times a year. The group meets every Saturday for four consecutive weeks.

"It helps me feel better," said Paige, an 8-year-old girl whose mother has lung cancer. Paige was adopted from China at the age of 4 months. "This was good today."

Ferber visits many local schools with his pets, sharing his message. He was instrumental in passing a law against using the type of trap that cut off Trapper’s paw. Trapper appeared on network news programs during the time.

Trapper was also the centerfold, along with Baron and Ferber, in "Time Magazine’s" May 2001 issue when the magazine did a story on Ferber’s battle with Leukemia.

"I am convinced that without the support of family, friends and the Wellness Community, I would not be here today, even with this new drug, Gleevec," Ferber said. "Now I try to give back to others what they and the Wellness Community give to me: support, strength and hope."