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A Dog’s Life: A Veterinarian Extraordinaire Dishes

“I’m part of the lives of the families of the pets I care for,” said veterinarian Amy Attas, as we sipped tea in the art and book-filled apartment atop the “pet friendly” Buckingham Hotel (across from Carnegie Hall), which her husband, Stephen Shapiro, owns. A graduate of Barnard College, with a master’s degree in animal behavior and a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania, she interned in medicine and surgery at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. In 1992, Attas founded CityPets, a unique house-calls-only practice catering to dogs and cats.

Her roster of 3,000 home clients includes Elton John, Erica Jong, Renée Fleming Billy Joel and Eliot Spitzer. Recommended to Elie Wiesel by John Slade, Attas recalled her first visit to examine the Wiesels’ Abyssinian cats: “At first it didn’t register. I was met by his wife [Marion]…. Told to wait, I took a seat.… Then I looked at the walls of books.… What a collection of Judaica…. The name Wiesel… I made the connection!”

A Forward reader, Attas, who takes to heart Judaism’s imperatives on the humane treatment of animals, spoke of her work with the heroic rescue dogs at Ground Zero. “The dogs were depressed… because their handlers were depressed.” She disclosed that when client Joan Rivers’s Yorkshire terrier Spike died September 9, 2001, “she never had the opportunity to mourn him because of 9/11.”

Attas, whose program,“Talking Pets,” airs every Saturday on Business Talk Radio, was adamant about the horrors of “puppy mills” and advocated adoption from shelters. Case in point: the two pugs she rescued from death — blind-from-birth black-coated Leonardo (da Vinci) and frisky fawn-colored Winston (as in Churchill) — who kept us company during our visit. Representations of pugs in paintings and on pillows, curtains and ceramics throughout the apartment attest to the love she holds for this breed.

I had a chance to witness Attas’s bedside manner when, a few days earlier, my daughter, Karen, and I accompanied her on several house calls. Always welcomed (by each family’s children, nanny, housekeeper), she approached her furry patients as though they were children. Lovingly she convinced a reticent black Labrador retriever suffering with “smelly skin” to allow her to take a swab, which she transferred to a slide to be sent to the lab. At another home, a frisky tail-flailing golden retriever cooperated with having an ear infection treated.

Attas, whose family hails from Greece and whose family’s Jewish roots go back to Roman times, told us of her trip three years ago to Ioaninna, Greece, where she “visited every surviving relative…those that did not perish during the Holocaust.” Noting that many relatives had lived “into their 100s,” she credited the Greek diet: “lots of olive oil.” Before we left, she promised to give us her family’s recipe for Greek-style charoset. “Call me at Pesach. You’ll never go back to Ashkenazic charoset.”

* * *|

Much of the buzz at the July 16 cocktail party celebrating the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, hosted by Barbara and John “Bunky” Hearst at their sprawling Bridgehampton hilltop mansion overlooking the ocean, was about Marlon Brando, who had served as the studio’s honorary chairman.

“He was a member of the Adler family since he was 19 years old,” said studio president and artistic director Tom Oppenheim, grandson of Stella Adler. “He was a paternal presence in my life and helped me in many important ways.” Oppenheim’s mother, Ellen Adler, noted sadly: “We were sweethearts.”

Among the 200 guests were co-chairs Brenda Siemer and Roy Scheider, Mercedes Ruehl, Pia Lindstrom, Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach, Sidney and Mary Lumet, Robert and Gladys Nederlander, Elisa and Joe Stein, and a still-smashing-at-93 Kitty Carlisle Hart, who declared: “I am keeping busy with my new book and all my causes.”

Oppenheim announced the recipients of the 2004 Stella Adler Studio of Acting Awards, to be presented at a November “Stella By Starlight” gala honoring Tony Kushner, Arthur Miller and, posthumously, Marlon Brando, whose award will be accepted by Al Pacino.

A week later, Ellen Adler, back from a private funeral for Brando on the West Coast, told me how lucky it was that Brando — whom she met in 1944 when she was 17 and “wearing bobby sox,” and with whom she spoke daily until his death — “chose me because he liked brunettes.”

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