By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But Margolis, by his own admission, didn't train Ulli. In fact, he doesn't do protection training at all - which hasn't stopped him from sitting on the three-man board that licenses protection-dog trainers for the city of Los Angeles. (The Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation established the licensing program in early 1980 after animal-rights activists exposed guard-dog suppliers with nine-page rap sheets.) When I ask Margolis about the board, he can't remember what it's called but defends it anyway. "It's called the Sentry Dog . . . the Sentry Dog . . . I've forgotten what it's called." (For the record, it's the Sentry Dog Licensing Board.)
"A lot of people say it's bogus," I tell him.
"Bogus? Who says it's bogus?"
"Jean-Claude Balu for one. Mike Herstik, too."
"Mike Herstik," I repeat, referring to a local protection-dog trainer who, in fact, once worked for Margolis on contract.
"Did he go there? Did he get licensed?"
"Yeah. He gets one every year."
"'Bogus.' It's always about 'bogus.' What do they do to legitimize the industry? I had to go through the test. At least it says you've had 2,000 hours of dog training. You check the references. At least you say, okay, you're a legitimately responsible person, as opposed to some guy who says, 'Yeah, hey, I train dogs, I'm a guard-dog trainer,' then he trains the dog wrong and he bites somebody. What do you have? They'd rather knock it. Why don't they improve it?"
But no one else - not state humane officer Barbara Fabricant, not even Margolis' fellow board member Rich-ard Karl - praises the licensing process. "I think it's okay," says Karl, who owns Hollywood Dog Training in North Hollywood. "It could be improved. The Department of Animal Regulation is short-staffed and undermoneyed to be doing what they're doing.
"The truth of the matter is, we used to have more meetings," Karl says wearily. "Obviously nobody's been up for licensing in a while."
"Why do these television programs keep having him on as an expert when I keep sending them these letters?" Steve Mendelsohn says over lunch at Solley's in the Valley, handing me a folder full of documents - letters, press clippings, a Buzz interview, a storyboard for an episode of Hard Copy detailing how a reporter could catch Margolis in his act. "I want Oprah to see these letters. I want to have a head-to-head competition with Matthew on Oprah, using his own dog."
Mendelsohn, a tall, imposing figure with a thick, black head of hair and a beard to match, carries around press clippings about other dog trainers, too, including the Los Angeles Times report on Angela Chan, who was mauled by the German shepherd that Howard Rodriguez of California K-9 sold her for $14,000 - mauled on the premises of Rodriguez's facility, during a session with a handler. (The case was settled out of court, and both parties have agreed to silence.) But he reserves the better part of his vitriol for Margolis, mostly because of a German shepherd named Dino that Mendelsohn became fond of over the few months in 1994 he worked for Margolis as a protection-dog trainer. He alleges that, after years of confining the dog to a kennel and refusing to sell him for anything less than $5,000, Margolis had Dino euthanized in April 1996. "I heard it took two shots to put him down," he says. "This was a dog that did not want to go."
Margolis doesn't deny that this happened, but he stops short of admitting it, too. "What I feel - I don't want to respond to that. I'm being put on the defensive without having clarity about this conversation. To remember the exact facts about this right off the top of my head is impossible. I'm not saying there wasn't a Dino. But I don't have any of the facts. It sounds like people have sour grapes about things."
But it's this tendency to recommend euthanization to worried potential clients that fuels Mendelsohn's anti-Margolis faction, which includes Kevin Ryan, a dog trainer who co-owns the West Hollywood pet-supply store Animal Crackers, and Barbara Fabricant.
A week after my lunch with Mendelsohn, I drive out to meet Fabricant in the flat, forgotten San Fernando Valley suburb of Winnetka, where she lives in a house lined with mirrors, twinkling lights, climbing vines and portraits of various yogis throughout history. "Here's what you can get him on," she says excitedly as she hands me a piece of faxed paper, the text of California Senate Bill 1991, "Animal Cruelty." "What would be great is if you could write a story that would get him on Hard Copy. Do you think they might pick it up? Do you know he charges $3,000 to housebreak a dog? How can he housebreak a dog when the dog hardly sees the outside of the [kennel]?"
Over the course of her 22-year career as a humane officer, Fabricant has rescued thousands of animals from abusive homes. She keeps a photo album of survivors: a pit bull that had been tied to a tree all day while kids were sent to taunt him with sticks; a shepherd mix that survived on a steady diet of tortillas and was discovered near death from malnutrition. "We found her another home," Fabricant says proudly, "and she turned into the most magnificent dog." In the album is also a grisly photo of the infamous pug that was found skinned alive in an 80-year-old woman's back yard. "It was a big media thing, but the chances of finding out who did it were like looking for a snowball in Hades. So of course they tried to blame it all on coyotes. But look at those straight lines," she says, pointing to the cut-away portion of the dog's skin. "That was no coyote."