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Elayne Boosler: Laughs for Lassie

Elayne Boosler

Kevin ScanlonElayne Boosler

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"Doesn't she look like Audrey Hepburn?" asks Elayne Boosler of Jazzy, a visiting pit bull–Weimaraner mix. Boosler does an impression of Jazzy as Hepburn, playing off the way the actress would draw out "really" to sound like "raaa-lllly." "I like your hair — raaa-lllly I do," Boosler, 60, coos. When Jazzy starts happily lapping from a water glass, Boosler quips, "She does that with scotch, too, which is even funnier."

From its decor, you would never know that this house in the Studio City hills belongs to a groundbreaking comic, the first female to get her own one-hour cable comedy special. There are no photos of Boosler with former flame Andy Kaufman; none that show her performing on Late Night With David Letterman or The Tonight Show. Instead, it's filled with folk art, much of it made by her. A lifelong Mets fan who grew up in Brooklyn, she also owns a pair of Shea Stadium seats. "The blue ones," she specifies. "Even the seats in my house suck."

Also the founder of Tails of Joy animal rescue organization, Boosler is a dog lover — but other than the occasional visiting pooch, her home is currently dog-free. "I've gone through eight dogs," she says dolefully. "I can't take the heartbreak."

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The catalyst for Tails of Joy was Boosler's idea that "two little old ladies in your hometown can save more animals than the Humane Society."

She raises money through comedy shows and donates it to the tiniest rescue organizations, those focused on saving animals rather than building a national presence.

Boosler has nothing nice to say about the Humane Society of the United States, "which runs no shelters. They have never rescued a dog or a cat."

Then there's "our biggest enemy," the American Kennel Club. "The AKC is the worst enemy a dog can have, because of what they've done to the health of dogs. You've seen how the show looks; it has been reduced to the bathing-suit portion of the Miss America Pageant. They decided they liked a sloping hip on a German shepherd, so they keep breeding and inbreeding. Why do you think every German shepherd has hip dysplasia?

"Then they decided boxers shouldn't drool, so they kept inbreeding them for smaller jowls," she adds. "Now every boxer you will ever have will die of cancer. All of mine have."

Saving animals is "hopeless in a sense," Boosler admits, "because it's a waterfall of death coming down the river, and you can pick up a few fish, or you can watch them all drown."

But she is nothing if not pugnacious. Like any native New Yorker, she likes a good fight: "I like bringing a fresh point of view into places that are known to clearly be a certain way, either socially or politically. I can open during the election with, 'So, crazy little Arizona, what are you going to do to screw up the elections this time? You make Florida look normal,' and they love it. Sometimes it's a shoving contest with both sides slyly smiling, but it's been working out well for 40 years. And hell, everybody needs a throw-down barroom brawl once in a while."

When the time comes, Boosler plans to have her ashes mixed with those of her beloved dogs. Some will be spread at a favorite spot in Big Sur, the rest over Coney Island. "I'd like to be a little bit of ashes in the Nathan's french fries," she says with a smile.

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Note: Corrected May 15 at 3:45 p.m. to clarify Boosler was talking about the Humane Society of the United States.