‘I always find if you train a dog to do tricks, not just train them to sit and stay, but to do tricks, they know how to make you smile.’
“I’ve always loved dogs. I grew up in Smithtown; we had an acre of property, really kind of in the sticks right by the Nissequogue River. We always had dogs.
“I always find if you train a dog to do tricks, not just train them to sit and stay, but to do tricks, they know how to make you smile. And that makes them happy that they can make you smile.
“Jilli Dog changed my life. My partner, Judy, found her on the street 24 years ago, and she said you better come get it. Ten minutes later I had this little dog. She was kind of scruffy. I nursed her back to health and taught her to do tricks, I taught her to play poker. She was an amazing dog.
One friend told us she’d suffered from depression her whole life, but when she saw Jilli, it was pure joy.
“About 20 years ago, my friend says we should put a video of her playing poker on YouTube. I said, ‘What’s YouTube?’ It got like 450,000 hits, which in those days was a lot. So many things change your life, but this was monumental.
“My mother was in a nursing home, and I took Jilli in to do tricks, and before you knew it, we had 15 or 20 people watching Jilli do tricks. That was my first entertaining, and I started doing it for other nursing homes and at the VA in Northport.
“Some of the people in the nursing homes would tell their families to come, and someone asked if I could do something at his office. I said sure, and he gave me $50, I didn’t even ask for anything. I did fundraisers for the North Shore Animal League, Little Shelter. Someone else asked if I could do a party, and it just built from there. I made it a little business without even realizing it.
“We had Jilli and we were happy with one dog. We weren’t looking for another dog, but a friend had Spidey, who she called a bad dog. We took her. And then another friend gave us Ruby. She was a wild dog; she couldn’t sit still. People said, you’ll never train that dog, but that energy turned into fun stuff. Now she’s 14 years old, and if I say we’re going to do tricks, she’s like, ‘Let’s go.’
“We performed a lot of places: Las Vegas, Nashville, TV shows. We’ve been on ‘Regis and Kelly,’ ‘Rachael Ray,’ ‘Animal Planet.’ When Jilli died, we put her obituary on Facebook and got more than 1,000 responses. One friend told us she’d suffered from depression her whole life, but when she saw Jilli, it was pure joy.”