Joan Rivers interview

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Joan Rivers and Max

Who knew fabulously funny lady Joan Rivers has more in common with dogs than just barking at less-than-stellar outfits on the red carpet?! The entertainment world's most high-energy "40+" woman we know has adored dogs since childhood, and she puts her money where her heart is.

Rivers generously donates proceeds from various projects to Guide Dogs for the Blind. She also writes quite often about her dogs on her fun and personal blog. As you'll see in this wonderfully candid interview with our pet expert, Julia Szabo, some of Ms. Rivers' most meaningful relationships have been with the many lucky, well-loved dogs in her life.

Julia Szabo: We hear you've been donating proceeds from ticket sales of your monthly gigs at the Cutting Room in New York to Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Joan Rivers: Half go to Guide Dogs and half go to God's Love We Deliver. And we just did an episode of "Celebrity Family Feud" and we gave all our proceeds to Guide Dogs for the Blind.

What moves you about the Guide Dogs organization?

It frees somebody totally - you don't have to depend on anybody. Guide dogs are so wonderful - my husband was very interested in them, and I actually went to a place outside of San Francisco where the dogs are trained. It just gives somebody such an independent life: you can walk anywhere, go anywhere.

Do your own dogs do that for you?

Right now one of my dogs has made me a total prisoner in my own house! We have a brand new Havanese puppy named Samantha.

That's not your only dog, right?

My other dog is Max, and he's something no Jewish woman should ever own because it's such a stereotype: he's a Pekingese! He's a rescue - rescuing is such the way to go.

Joan Rivers and Max

Joan Rivers and Max

How did Max come into your life?

My other dog was a Yorkie named Spike who everyone still remembers. He died and even though I had two other dogs at the time, it wasn't the same - I couldn't get over Spike, to the point where I was going to buy a plaque from a catalog that says, "If tears were bricks I'd have a path to heaven for you, my dog." This would not fit in with Fine French Furniture! So I called my vet and told her, I really am in trouble here. It's been two years and I'm buying plaques for around the living room! And she said you need a troubled dog to get your mind off Spike, someone to care for. And Max was a rescue that the vet had up for adoption. He had come through two households and been very abused; he was not in good shape. So now I have Max and Samantha.

What are your dogs doing right now?

Max is sitting right here at my feet, he's not moving; and Samantha is downstairs in the kitchen.

Have you lived with animals all your life?

Always dogs - my parents always had dogs. The first dog I can remember was named Angus; he was a Welsh terrier. All my life I've lived with dogs. A house without a dog is not a home. I cannot understand people who don't have a pet, whether it's a dog or a cat. I couldn't do it.

What's the neatest trick your dog has ever done?

The best thing was when Spike taught himself a trick. He literally would go on stage with me every night and do this trick: he would go through a hoop. I had a hoop and I used to go through it as a joke to make the audience laugh at me. Spike saw it, and one night he went through the hoop. So we had a rivalry - we'd take turns going through this hoop.

Who got the bigger laughs?

Who do you think?

What's the greatest lesson a dog ever taught you?

My dog Lulu was a Boston terrier; she just died three months ago of cancer. She had her leg removed, and we cried for months - but she was up and about and up the stairs, and I never saw a dog say, "OK next!" It was amazing. That was survival, to the point where it was, "Throw the ball - I can get it." You want to take all my whiny, complaining friends and show them this dog. And then Lulu got a call to go out on a date with Paul McCartney's dog.

Joan Rivers and LuLu

Joan Rivers and LuLu

What's a dog's greatest gift to a person?

The loyalty. I'm always astonished. If somebody loves their dogs they're a good person, usually. I know it sounds corny, but if somebody's got a picture of their dog in their wallet or on their phone, you know that somewhere, that person has a good heart.

Do you have your dog's photos on your phone?

I carry my dogs' pictures everywhere. Plus I have pictures everywhere at home. My house is kitsch - my decorator is truly suicidal. I have plates - plates! - with the dogs' pictures on them up at my house in Connecticut.

What's the real difference between male and female dogs?

The females are gentle and the males like you better.

Have you ever had big dogs?

I had the most gorgeous female German Shepherd in California. Her name was Tiger, she was absolutely - God, she was wonderful. She would stand up and my husband and I would say, Look at her. She was so beautiful, and such a good girl.

What side of the bed do the dogs sleep on?

It can be very hard to have a dog in your bed if you're looking to have a friend with you. The dogs sleep any place they want. You end up sleeping horizontally - it's a joke. In order to get a good spot on my bed, I have to come in with liver treats!

What's the dogs' favorite thing to watch on TV?

I cannot watch any TV that has a dog in it or a dog barking - they totally respond to what's on TV. But you know, so if you're watching "CSI" and they put in a dog bark in the background, we get a chorus in the bedroom that's to wake the dead. The dogs were very into "The Tudors" - someone was on a horse and they went crazy. So I pray for inside scenes: "Please, God, let 'em hate Anne Boleyn inside today... let her be beheaded inside, c'mon... c'mon..."

What music do the dogs like listening to?

Show tunes.

Do they sing along?

No, but they get very upset when I do. That's the only time I'm alone in the bedroom!

You're a voracious reader, and there are so many wonderful books about dogs out; read any good ones lately?

Rescuing Sprite by Mark Levin. It's adorable, warm, and loving.

When is your next book coming out?

I have two books coming out next year from Pocket Books. One is on plastic surgery, which I do not believe in for dogs.

What do your dogs do while you read?

Either they turn into slugs or they run around the apartment. There are lots of rubber bones to play with all over the house, and plenty of entertainment.

What's the most extravagant thing you ever bought your dogs?

An antique French dog house. It's so insane, pale green moire, all done with ormolu and cutesy-wutesey tassels. I bought it at Christie's, I was bidding against somebody, one of the Gabors wanted it. I thought, this is going to be amazing sitting under my piano, my little dogs will go in and out. Well, guess what - nobody's going in there.

What's been your dogs' greatest emotional gift to you?

They've kept me feeling young and they've given me a purpose in life. I often talk about survival and suicide, and one of the things that pulled me through was literally my dog Spike. When I was feeling at my lowest, he came in to my room one night and just sat in my lap. And I thought, well, I've got somebody.

Do your dogs have a coordinated wardrobe?

I wish - they don't like to get into their clothes. When you try to make them match, they're not happy with their clothes or their leashes. I pictured myself with my dogs all in the same coats and leashes, looking very spiffy - and it ends up this one likes this coat, this one lies that sweater. We look like such ragamuffins, like I'm walking friends' dogs.

What's your advice for someone who's grieving the loss of a pet?

Adopt as quickly as you can. I did. When somebody is happily married, they remarry quickly - it's when somebody's not so happily married that they don't get married again. I'm still grieving for my lost dogs, but it's so nice to have the life of Sam and Max in the house. You have only good memories, and it doesn't negate your other dogs' importance. Nobody is "replaced," but my God, go give somebody else happiness. Go help somebody else.

For more fun information about Joan and her beloved dogs, visit her blog.

Joan Rivers with Max and LuLu

Joan Rivers with Max and LuLu

All photos by Charles William Bush

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