By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
LISA McREE: Matthew, there are so many choices when you go to a shelter. I know if you're picking a puppy, it's fairly easy to find one you like, and you start from scratch. But how do you know when you pick an adult dog that it'll get along with your family?
MATTHEW MARGOLIS: Well, you don't, Lisa, and the key is to give personality testing . . . You do a hand-shy test, you do a boy test, you do a pain-tolerance test. So we got Joey over here. Come here, Joey. Come on, buddy. And we're going to actually give him a series of tests. I've never seen him before. We're going to find out if he's the right dog for any kind of family.
-Good Morning America,
March 2, 1998
Every Saturday at NIDT's Mon-terey Park kennel, a facility that houses 100 dogs and employs 35 people, Margolis holds open house. Dog owners with pets at "doggy camp" stop in to visit; potential clients come by to have their dogs evaluated and, almost invariably, to be told their animals need to stay for a few months. On the second Saturday in April, I arrive to find Margolis mid-pitch. "What if that dog bit somebody?" he's asking an older couple with a black dog that looks like a Lab mix. "You'd say, 'That never happened before!' Wouldn't you say that? 'It never happened before.' And there it happened. Right? And then what've you got? A lawsuit. Right? Do you want a lawsuit? Of course you don't." (He'd a used nearly the same words with me when I brought my 8-year-old Cairn terrier for Margolis to assess at his West L.A. sales office. "I'm talking to you as a client now," he reminded me twice, "not as a journalist.")
Not one to dress for the trenches, Margolis' jeans are neatly pressed, his sneakers sparkling white. He's a small man who gives an impression of wealth, but also of weariness: His graying brown hair looks thinner, his face more careworn than it does on TV; his brow seems perpetually contorted in consternation. Under the canopy in NIDT's driveway, Margolis is trying to persuade an 8-month-old chocolate-colored Shar-Pei puppy, Misha, to come to heel with repeated sharp jerks on her leash. Trembling in every muscle, the dog yelps and wriggles, throwing her head violently from side to side in an effort to escape the metal correction collar, commonly known as a choke chain. Meanwhile, Margolis lectures Misha's owners, a neatly dressed couple in their 30s who drove up in an alarm-equipped sport utility vehicle, on the tenets of love, praise and affection. "Most of my trainers," he assures them, "are female."
A few minutes ago, Misha might have been more compliant. She arrived at the kennel eager to solicit anyone's affection, and deemed Margolis as worthy of her love as anyone. As he squealed in his trademark falsetto - "Ooooh, what a nice little doggy! Oooh, Uncle Matty's proud!" - she climbed gingerly onto his lap, wagged her little brown tail and licked his face. But suddenly Margolis stood up. "Okay!" he announced. "Let's find out what you really have here." Snapping a piece of paper against his thigh, he began stalking Misha with a menacing glare. Bewildered, Misha backed away. He raised a hand as if to strike her over the head; she cowered in a dramatic display of terror.
"See how scared she is?" Margolis says. "She needs socialization, see? Socialization in the kennel. That's the only way to deal with this shyness."
The owners nod and smile weakly. "We've never seen her act like that before," they say.
"That's what everybody says," Margolis says, and turns the conversation from shyness to biting. "It only has to happen once. See that dog over there, Ulli?" He points to his own protection-trained German shepherd. "He's my dog. If I told you he only growled once, would you feel comfortable? You always want to remove yourself. It doesn't mean she's a bad dog, it means she's got problems. Most dogs have problems. It's social problems - shyness, aggressiveness - that's the problem."
Margolis gives Misha a break and runs a few demonstrations. He borrows Jewel, a 10-month-old Dalmatian puppy, from her visiting family to show what four weeks at NIDT can do. Jewel, who'd already been performing beautifully with director of training Sherry Davis, jumps happily over Ulli's back as the big shepherd holds his down-stay. "And I've never worked with her before!" Margolis announces. Jewel goes back to her owners, and Margolis begins the process of winning Misha back, first by sitting on the ground and whining like a lost puppy. (The sound attracts dogs by working on an ancestral force: A whimpering dog means an injured dog, and an injured dog means leftover food.) But Misha has freaked beyond his estimation, and he's finally forced to go against his no-food principles. He retrieves a biscuit from a treat box and lures Misha toward him. She takes it. A few more squeals, a little scratching behind the ears - and eventually the puppy puts her paws cautiously back on Margolis' right leg.
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