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
"Bob Penny came right over and took a look at her, played with her, and said, 'There's nothing wrong with this dog.'" He told Katz to call the bank and stop payment on the check, even though Margolis told her she had 48 hours to decide. But even though she'd written the check just two hours before, Bank of America informed her that the check had already been cashed. "I threw such a fit," Katz says, "that they actually took the money out of his account and put it back in mine.
"I was crying buckets in his office and he let me do that, knowing he was full of shit," says Katz. "I know Nancy Glass, who did this show, American Journal. I wanted her to get it on film. I wanted to set him up. But I could never get it all coordinated."
"It's very annoying to me that you're making me defensive," Margolis responds when I ask him why he recommended that Ari be put to sleep. "I didn't say that to Gail Katz. I said the dog is genetically messed up. I thought the dog had a genetic problem, and I was concerned about her children. I didn't think that dog would be safe with kids."
I tell Margolis that Ari, who will be 7 in August, has since been trained to obey on hand signals, and has grown up with the children and never hurt anyone. "Look," he says, "they called me with a problem, didn't they? Obviously they had a concern. She brought the dog to me. I don't solicit those people. If a dog is growling, whatever the reason is, can you guarantee that it will never happen again? Never. At the expense of somebody getting hurt, you don't do that. A lot of people are in denial about that."
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who's quoted on the back of Woof! as one of Margolis' fans, knows too well about the dog that only bites once. She bought that dog from Margolis. "I wrote that quote back in the days when I thought things were going well," she tells me on a four-minute news break from her radio show. "And I regret it every day of my life."
Schlessinger says she paid Margolis "somewhere on the order of $15,000 to $17,000" to train her first German shepherd puppy, Lazor. But after several months in Margolis' hands, "the dog was becoming more and more uncontrollable." In lieu of a refund, Schlessinger traded Lazor for a fully trained protection dog imported from Germany, which Margolis would provide and promised to train for three months.
"The minute the dog was off the plane he said, 'Come and get your dog,'" Schlessinger remembers. "I said, 'I thought you were going to work with her.' He said, 'She's already great, come and get her.' I said okay. I named her Esta, you know, like the Esta bunny."
By all accounts, Schlessinger lived up to her commitment to work with the dog, develop a relationship, drill her in obedience. "I'm very diligent," Schlessinger says, "as you might imagine. I worked very hard with her." (Margolis agrees. "She was out there with the dog every day for an hour.") But she could do nothing to control Esta. The shepherd was "ferociously dog-aggressive," according to Schlessinger. "She wanted to attack every dog she saw, including the Pekingese across the street. One day I was walking her, and a guy 25 feet away from me was walking a Dalmatian. You know how they are, just lumps of spots. The guy's dog did not even look at me, but Esta went to kill the dog anyway." When Schlessinger tried to restrain her, Esta turned her jaw on her handler's thigh. "Luckily, I was wearing jeans, so her teeth didn't get through the denim. But I had a black-and-blue thigh for a week.
"I called [Margolis] and I was unglued," Schlessinger says. "I was scared of her; I thought she was going to end up attacking me."
Margolis took the dog back, but he did not apologize or admit any wrongdoing, nor did he refund any money, according to Schlessinger. Margolis isn't so sure. "I don't know the file, but I don't think that's true," he told me. "I don't know. I'd have to check." But he does admit that Esta "wasn't the right dog for her. You try to match the dog with the person. You try to think, what's the lifestyle, what's the personality? It was always 'protection, protection' with her. She seemed very concerned about protection."
In some ways, it makes sense that Schlessinger turned to Margolis, whose advertising slogan was once "Love, Affection, Obedience, Protection." In other ways, it's puzzling: The only negative press Margolis had ever received involved a protection dog he sold to the actor John Candy for $19,000 - a dog that Candy alleged suffered from chronic diarrhea. Candy and Margolis settled out of court, and a few months later Margolis sold the dog again, for $17,000. (The new owner is perfectly satisfied.)
The word protection has been dropped from Margolis' publicity campaigns - one of the current slogans reads, "The 11th Commandment: Never Hit Your Dog" - but Margolis still gives the impression that protection dogs are part of his business. On a kennel visit, I tell Margolis about meeting Jean-Claude Balu, a Fontana-based trainer who titles dogs in Schutzhund, a dog sport closely related to protection-dog training. Balu let me wear the sleeve and "take a bite" from his Belgian Malinois, Faust, who recently placed 14th in the World Schutzhund Championship in Slovakia. Margolis is unimpressed. "We do that kind of stuff here," he claims. "Ulli's a Schutzhund III."
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