CENTERPORT, New York, October 2
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
When Rick Caran – a Centerport man whose “retired career” consists of dog training and loving – lost his pal and performing partner of 16 years, Jilli Dog, on Sept. 19, he lost more than just man’s best friend; he lost an “angel.”
“I’ve loved every dog that I’ve ever had, but I had the most amazing connection with [Jilli],” Caran said; noting that Jilli Dog passed away in his arms of natural causes at his home in Centerport. “With her, she saw into your soul; she looked right into your heart. I know a whole different world of people because of that dog.”
Caran was introduced to that world of people because of Jilli Dog’s performances, which took the duo to far-off places like Japan and Europe, and across the United States, as the pup won over the hearts of her audiences through tricks as complex as playing poker and basketball, and as simple as sitting, staying and playing dead – but she did it in her own special way every time, Caran said.
Some of Jilli Dog’s most notable performances include a poker game against Bette Midler; appearances on “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show”; and various shows at schools, pet expos and training seminars around the world.
“She touched a lot of people… On Facebook alone there have been over 700 comments from people saying how much [Jilli] touched their lives – and it’s not just people who knew her well,” Caran said of the 5-pound Yorkie that he met in 1998. “There was just some kind of magic about her.”
Originally a stray, Jilli Dog came into Caran’s life when his girlfriend Judy found her on the streets near what was then Touro Law Center in Huntington. If Judy had found the dog just 10 seconds later, Caran said, he may never have had the opportunity to train her.
“[That day] there was another guy who walked by 10 seconds after Judy who said he would take the dog and try to find the owner,” Caran, 69, said. “But Judy, knowing I was into dogs, said she would take [Jilli] home. If she hadn’t, it would have changed my life.”
To this day, Caran said, Jilli Dog’s origins remain a mystery; but to him, she’s become more of a “miracle” – one that has helped him to continue caring for dogs, even in her absence.
“Even though I knew [her death] was coming, it was still devastating… But while I am very sad, I in no way feel bad for myself; I spent 15 wonderful years with her,” he said of Jilli Dog, which he’s just named his restored ’79 Nordica-20 sailboat after. “When you lose a dog and it hurts so bad because that dog added so much to your life, then you’re the person who should go out and rescue another.”
Today Caran, a columnist for Yorky Club Magazine, still spends his time performing and training his other dogs, one of which he’s named Ruby Dog – a 3-pound Yorkie.
Originally published: Long Islander News: The Long Islander
(Thursday, October 2, 2014; A35)