Self-starting style makers

Four local entrepreneurs who are making their mark on the style industry. Courtesy Long Island Pulse

Four local entrepreneurs who are making their mark on the style industry. Courtesy Long Island Pulse

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the September issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

Chasing ideas is risky business, but with a little bit of instinct and a lot of knowledge, it can pay off. Pulse spoke to four local entrepreneurs who are making their mark on the style industry—one in fashion, one in men’s grooming and a pair of siblings in accessories. These style influencers shared their stories and provided a firsthand glance into their chic and unique brands.

Kara Mendelsohn | cooper & ella

Kara Mendelsohn went from working for the top fashion brands to successfully launching her own brand, Cooper + Ella. Courtesy Long Island Pulse.

Kara Mendelsohn went from working for the top fashion brands to successfully launching her own brand, Cooper + Ella. Courtesy Long Island Pulse.

Kara Mendelsohn has always been a risk taker. In her 20s she ditched her degrees in art history and psychology from Lafayette College to chase her dream of working in the fashion industry. In 2013, after nearly two decades of rising in the ranks and working for some of the most renowned fashion houses—including Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs—Mendelsohn left behind stability and a sizeable salary to launch her own clothing line, cooper & ella.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Mendelsohn, who lives in Centerport with her husband, Adam, and children, Cooper and Ella. When she noticed that there was an untapped market of women searching for affordable date tops—blouses that transition easily from “desk to dinner, day to night”—she pounced on the opportunity.

“I really know my customer. I spent so many years traveling across the states and around the world… You really learn what women want.” So far, cooper & ella’s success has proven that to be true; it’s selling from Long Island to Japan in some of the biggest department stores. The brand’s universal appeal is threefold, according to its founder: it specializes in blouses specifically, it has sophisticated and elevated design, and it’s affordable, ranging in price from $88 to $150.

There’s also the added benefit of charity. The cost of one hot, nutritious meal for a child in need is built into the price of each cooper & ella item. Last fall, Mendelsohn partnered with the Hope Foundation School in Bangalore, India, and launched the Empower giveback initiative. The school practices a “cradle-to-career” solution that gets kids into the schools, educates them and prepares them for the working world. “It’s changing the entire trajectory of that child’s life. It actually changes lives, changes the cycle of poverty children are caught in.”

Mendelsohn said her current focus is getting her customers what they need, but she is also working to grow cooper & ella into a lifestyle brand that offers more products. The company launched dresses this spring and is preparing to launch sweaters for the fall.

Joann Kuno | JS Sloane

Joanne Kuno launched JS Sloane, a men's product line, just as demand for such products began to grow. Courtesy Long Island Pulse.

Joanne Kuno launched JS Sloane, a men’s product line, just as demand for such products began to grow. Courtesy Long Island Pulse.

There’s never been room for failure in Joann Kuno’s life. The single mother of two from Floral Park had no choice but to reinvent herself after the mortgage crisis left her on the brink of bankruptcy. She went from a high finance position where she worked for herself to an entry-level job as a rep for L’Oreal, walking the streets of New York City and learning the beauty industry from the bottom up. After about a year of pounding the pavement, Kuno decided to put it all on the line and launch JS Sloane men’s grooming products out of her basement. “I risked everything and put it out there and wanted to succeed. I took all of my savings, did my research, worked out a plan. I was determined to do this,” Kuno said.

Since then, the company has developed 12 products reminiscent of items Kuno’s own father and grandfather used: hair pomades and shampoos, beard oils and shaving creams. “It’s old school with a modern twist. I want the brand to be timeless and to have that exclusiveness where you won’t find it in a drugstore. Let’s bring back that dapper gentleman with bow ties and fedoras.”

Kuno’s timing couldn’t have been better given the return of the beard and the rise in men’s specialty stores. In the three years since she launched the company, she’s already partnered with numerous barbershops and found spokesmen in celebrities, including Zachary Quinto and Jake Gyllenhaal. Kuno also recently embarked on a docu-series campaign with Kyan Douglas, the grooming expert on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, to highlight the history of the barber. Filming for the show, Celebrating the Style of the American Barber, began at the end of June and Kuno and Douglas are in the process of finding a network to air it next year.

Kuno credits the brand’s success not only to good timing, but also to her passion. “The harder you work and the more love and heart you put into it, the better it will be. I really think it’s going to be a household name. I want to be a staple in men’s grooming.” Since opening a second location in Mineola, Kuno said items are just flying off the shelves.

Carol O’Connell and Tom Glazer | GiGi New York

With raw talent — and raw materials — Carol O'Connell and Tom Glazer launched their own leather accessories business. Courtesy Long Island Pulse.

With raw talent — and raw materials — Carol O’Connell and Tom Glazer launched their own leather accessories business. Courtesy Long Island Pulse.

For Carol O’Connell and her brother Tom Glazer, it began simply as a job. Their father opened a leather goods business out of his Floral Park home and needed their help running it. They obliged and then never left. Today, about 40 years after helping out dear dad, O’Connell and Glazer own and operate the family business. They’ve evolved the original brand, Graphic Image, which produced agendas, diaries, journals and the like, and in 2009 founded daughter company GiGi New York specializing in handbags.

“We had already educated ourselves in sewing and edging and manufacturing small personal leather goods, so we just grew into larger leather goods,” O’Connell said. And, added Glazer, “we started with totes, so it was less of a leap.” In keeping with their father’s more traditional form-follows function designs, the siblings decided to launch GiGi with simple and classic styles—bags that appeal to their middleaged contemporaries as well as women in their 20s. “It’s anything but modern,” Glazer said. “It’s the age-old way to do it.”

It’s that concept that has made their handbags desirable, and landed them in the arms of celebrities like Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner and Beverly Hills “Housewife” Lisa Vanderpump— but their success comes from decades of experience, deep knowledge of leathers and a modest disposition. “[Tom] has spent 30 years knowing leather and who the players are and what is quality… the one thing that stands out dramatically is the quality of our leather and the price that it’s offered at,” said O’Connell.

Customers at GiGi’s Southampton store are always asking how the company keeps prices so low. “We don’t throw anything away here,” Glazer said. “Whether we’re making key chains or coasters or business-card cases and wallets, we’re very efficient… I think that’s the reason we can deliver so much value per dollar spent.”

The siblings also keep costs down by running almost every aspect of their business in-house. From acquiring the leather to overseeing the design to distributing the products, everything is done in their 50,000-square-foot factory in Melville, which also includes a very popular outlet store that’s open five days a week in the fall. As GiGi New York continues to gain exposure, O’Connell and Glazer are focused on maintaining growth and exploring the possibility of launching a line of belts.

The new nose job: liquid rhinoplasty is on the rise

Liquid nose jobs are on the rise thanks to low cost, ease of use and little recovery time. Courtesy Long Island Pulse

Liquid nose jobs are on the rise thanks to low cost, ease of use and little recovery time. Courtesy Long Island Pulse

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the July issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

If only Michael Jackson was around to see this. They’re called “liquid nose jobs,” and they’re on the rise.

By injecting dermal fillers into the skin of the nose, plastic surgeons have found a less conspicuous, non-surgical way to reshape the sniffer. And, like Botox injections and other minimally invasive procedures, it’s become a hit over the last decade and a half, local experts said. In fact, annual soft-tissue filler use for procedures such as liquid rhinoplasty has increased 253 percent since 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. About 2.3 million people used fillers in the last year alone, compared with 650,000 back in 2000.

The growth can be attributed in part to the improved quality of the fillers and the medical community’s grasp on how to best utilize them. But the real appeal lies in their ease of use. Filler procedures are incredibly quick and there’s practically no recovery period. Walk in to a consultation with a plastic surgeon and 15 minutes and a few shots later, it’s done. No hassle, no pain, no problem.

“People see it as a simple alternative that gives them a significant degree of improvement while not having any downtime,” said Dr. David Funt, a Woodmere-based board-certified plastic surgeon and fellow of the American College of Surgeons. “There’s no pre-operative preparation or postoperative discomfort. I think that’s the main draw.”

There’s also no commitment, since fillers are temporary and last between six months and a year. They can be adjusted at any time or entirely reversed with the injection of an enzyme, said Dr. Andrew Jacono, a dual board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon affiliated with North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. That makes fillers perfect for people who want to “try on their nose,” Jacono said.

At about $600 to $1,500 per session, fillers are great for those who can’t manage the cost of permanent surgery, which can run anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. Even so, that can add up quickly over the course of a few years. “It becomes cost prohibitive,” Funt said, and doesn’t make sense for those who want a permanent solution. Overall, Americans spent $5 billion on non-surgical cosmetic procedures in 2013 and about $2.7 billion on injectables, according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

In Funt’s experience, the patients who most often seek liquid nose jobs are those who have suffered deformities as a result of a surgical rhinoplasty and need adjustments. He also sees many patients who want simple nose-tip lifts or alignments of asymmetrical features.

“The upside to liquid rhinoplasty versus some areas of the face is that there’s less movement,” said Dr. Noel Natoli, a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon with the Long Island Surgical Group. “It’s a static organ, so the filler there lasts longer” than filler injected into the laugh lines or cheeks, she added, noting that filler use all over the face is growing in popularity.

Natoli credits the current trend to social media. While fillers have been around for more than a decade, they’ve only recently become a hot topic. “Social media has totally changed our profession,” Natoli said. “People talk about it openly. It’s not a dirty word anymore.”

Echoing the sentiment, Jacono noted that people are far more aware of their appearance today than they were 20 years ago. “If somebody takes a picture of you and you don’t like your nose, suddenly you’re overexposed,” he said. “It’s on Facebook, it’s on Instagram.” And thanks to the rise of the selfie, “We’re becoming very aware of how we look from every angle.”

For Funt, it’s about the ease with which people can share information using social media. “If people are talking about the work they’re doing, others will follow suit,” he said. Especially if that work is effortless. “People are never apt to jump under anesthesia or sedation and have an invasive surgical procedure unless they have to. If they see a non-invasive alternative, even though the results are inferior in some ways, they’d say, ‘Well, that’s going to be good enough for me.’”

And there’s little risk associated with injectable fillers, the most common of which are made of hyaluronic acid, a sugar molecule contained in skin, cartilage and bones. Funt, who works as a product development and complication-mitigation consultant and instructor for the three main filler manufacturers—the makers of Restylane, Juvéderm and Radiesse— said serious side effects are relatively rare, appearing in less than 1 percent of patients. A 2006 study by the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that some form of complications occur in about 5 percent of patients, but most problems fade away with time. Side effects ranged from the more common injection-related bruising and swelling to rare cases of clogged facial arteries, blindness and even paralysis. “It’s a matter of appropriate caution,” Funt said, noting that experience, credentials and common sense reign supreme in the world of injectable fillers.

Natoli cautioned against participating in the risky business of injectable parties, where inexperienced and unqualified people inject their friends with fillers and neurotoxins like Botox, which disconnect nerve supple to the muscle. “Be wary of the bargaining aspect,” she said.

“And do your homework,” Jacono added. “Make sure that you’re seeking out a plastic surgeon or doctor with a lot of experience doing this stuff …You can’t hide your face. If liposuction doesn’t turn out well, you can put a shirt over it, but if your face doesn’t turn out normal, you can’t hide it.”

Midlife Crisis: Middle-aged men are turning to suicide in greater numbers, but those who survive them are reaching out to stem the tide

SAVE’s public service announcement “Little Victories” targeting suicidal middle-aged men. Courtesy Blue Sky Riders, SAVE.

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article originally appeared in the May issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. The stills are taken from SAVE’s PSA, “Little Victories,” by the Blue Sky RidersThis content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine, SAVE and the Blue Sky Riders, respectively.]

People always told Claudine Guerra that her husband resembled Robin Williams, so it hit close to home when the actor committed suicide last August. “From the outside looking in, Robin Williams looked like he had everything you could want,” said Guerra, who lives in Sayville with her two young children. “Same thing with my husband.” Robert Guerra, 50, had a great job as the IT director for North Shore-LIJ Health Systems. He was highly regarded in his field, earned a sizeable salary and received job offers regularly. He was well established in the community and had a close group of friends and a loving family.

Like Williams, who was 63 at the time of his death, Robert was enjoying success in the prime of his life. Also like Williams, Robert hanged himself in his own home. In the weeks before their deaths both men suffered from depression, anxiety and paranoia. They weren’t alone.

Throughout the last two years, members of the baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964)—men in particular—have been turning to suicide in greater numbers across the country. In Nantucket, Mass., between October and February 2015 alone, seven middle-aged adults committed suicide. While experts admit they can’t pinpoint a specific reason for the trend, they have an idea of what factors are contributing. “Drugs and alcohol are an issue for this age group,” said Jill Harkavy Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). “Unemployment may have contributed by increasing stress on vulnerable people.”

Fran Karliner and Theresa Buhse of the Bellmore-based Long Island Crisis Center (LICC), which operates a suicide hotline, have attributed the rising rates to substance abuse, depression and social and economic pressures. The center, which obtains data from callers, found that over the last four years the number of male baby boomer callers increased 105 percent—60 percent for those specifically with suicide ideation.

Karliner, LICC’s director of development, noted that as a result of the Great Recession that ended in 2009 (from which the world is still recovering), many baby boomers became members of the “sandwich generation”—people who are financially responsible for aging and ailing parents, as well as post-college age children who are returning to live at home. According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of middle-aged adults fall into that category.

Buhse, the center’s associate executive director, said the resulting stress and pressures compound depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses that lead to isolation and loneliness. For a generation of people who were taught that you don’t air dirty laundry, it’s a recipe for disaster.

In 2013, the highest suicide rate—19.1 deaths per 100,000—was among people 45 to 64 years old, and nearly 78 percent of all suicide deaths in the country were those of men, according to the AFSP and the Centers for Disease Control. And though women are five times more likely to attempt suicide, men are seven times more likely to complete it, according to Buhse. Middle-aged men are now considered the highest risk for death by suicide, overtaking even the elderly, who have historically held the title.

Men are much less likely to reach out for help,” Karliner said. “A woman will talk to other people, will reach out for help, but men have been taught that you keep your feelings inside, that it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help.”

SAVE’s public service announcement “Little Victories” targeting suicidal middle-aged men. Courtesy Blue Sky Riders, SAVE.

That’s certainly what Robert Guerra learned growing up in Wantagh with a hard-nosed military father who believed men had to be tough and that it was unacceptable to talk about emotions, worries and woes. “I always tried to encourage my husband to go [to therapy], but he didn’t believe in any of that kind of thing,” his widow said. Thinking her husband was experiencing a mental breakdown, Guerra had, in fact, made an appointment for him to see a therapist. It was scheduled for two days after his death on April 15, 2013.

“People are going to tell you a million times that it’s not your fault,” she said, “but you’re always going to feel that it partly is.” Guerra still struggles with guilt and acceptance, but her grief is slowly healing with the help of a counselor from Joe’s Project, an organization that provides mental health and support services, as well as a 24/7 hotline, to Suffolk County residents directly impacted by suicide. Acceptance is the ultimate goal for Guerra. “My best advice to somebody who’s gone through this is just accept that you’re never going to have an answer, because I’ve gone over it a million times since it’s happened and I don’t understand it any more today.”

It’s taken Janice Alfieri about five years to find acceptance and closure, and not only from guilt, but also from shame. Alfieri’s 63-year-old husband, Larry Fulgieri, slit his wrists in the kitchen of their Bayside home in 2009. “I find as a widow that people shy away from me,” she said, noting that the stigma surrounding suicide characterizes it as selfish and cowardly. “There wasn’t a selfish bone in his body,” Alfieri said of her husband of 29 years. “He just needed the pain to go away—not only physical, but mental.” Fugieri had become dependent on painkillers following an injury sustained in a car accident three years prior. The torment of chronic pain coupled with the struggle of addiction left the retired sheet metal worker unable to do the things he loved most: boating, fishing and cooking meals for his traditional Italian family. “Everything became a chore for him and he felt he was holding me back.”

Feeling like a burden or a failure is common among suicidal baby boomer men, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) Executive Director Dan Reidenberg, who’s been focusing efforts on prevention for the cohort. “The baby boom generation is a very motivated, highly energized population. They were very successful,” Reidenberg said. “As they move into older age, there are fewer opportunities for them to carry on that ability to contribute as much to society…to keep that identity that helped them be so successful. Their income drops, their earning potential diminishes, they lose people more. The older they get, the more physical ailments they have. All of these things begin to really weigh on people.”

SAVE’s most recent campaign targets adult men, ages 25 to 54, and aims to increase help-seeking behaviors. It includes public service announcements and television, radio and print advertisements featuring middle-aged men who appeal directly to the feelings of ineptness and hopelessness. Last fall, SAVE ran the ads and PSAs on the jumbotron at Lambeau Field during Green Bay Packers games. It also plans to run them this year at the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. “The idea is to reach into those audiences…so that they can see that it is ok to ask for help,” said Reidenberg, who also serves as managing director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention and as US representative to the International Association of Suicide Prevention.

But in order to really bolster the conversation about suicide, people need to start talking about mental illness, according to Jessica Hutchison, a Chicago-based licensed clinical counselor and a suicide loss survivor. Hutchison lost her 63-year-old father, Robert Levstik, to a self-inflicted gunshot wound two days after Christmas in 2011. According to his daughter, the retired civil engineer had always been a gentle soul—a bellbottom-wearing, gun-hating, peace-loving hippie—until mental illness obliterated his health, happiness and hope. “Yes, my dad died by suicide,” Hutchison said, “but the depression and anxiety are what took his life.”

Along with two other Chicago-based women who lost their fathers to suicide, Hutchison co-founded the blog Our Side of Suicide to provide support to other survivors and to bring the subject of mental illness to the forefront. The AFSP has been working toward the same goal, making outreach and awareness priorities. “Knowledge is power,” said Dale Camhi, the AFSP’s Metro-New York regional director. “If we know what to look for and what to do, maybe we stand a chance of bringing the rate of suicide down.”

And more and more Long Islanders are joining the cause. Last fall, more than 4,000 people attended the AFSP’s annual “Out of the Darkness” suicide prevention and awareness walk at Old Westbury Gardens. Among them was Sharon Uss, whose father, Robert Nielsen—a 52-year-old sergeant with the Long Beach Police Department—took his service weapon to his head on Easter Sunday in 2002. “It’s not a somber, sad event,” said Uss, who’s walked for the last three years. “It’s just amazing to see all the people who are there. You don’t feel alone.”

Connecting with others who understand the impact of suicide is one of the reasons Alfieri has decided to participate in this year’s 12th annual walk. “I’ve come out of the closet,” she said. “People need to know that normal people from good homes—from every walk of life—face this and there’s nothing for us to be ashamed of.”

Robin Williams’ death was a testament to that, according to Guerra. “I think people were just genuinely sad that we lost such a great entertainer and someone who seemed like such a good, caring person,” she said, noting yet another similarity between the actor and her husband. “I think people generally felt sad for [Robert]. I don’t think they thought he was crazy.”

Reflecting on the tragedy that struck her life, Guerra’s advice is to just keep communicating. “Not talking about it doesn’t change anything. People have to be aware that [depression is] an awful illness. Don’t be afraid to say that you’re struggling.”

Resources for those Contemplating Suicide
Long Island Crisis Center
Hotline: (516) 679-1111
Online chatting:
Live texting: Text “LICC” to 839863

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hotline: (800) 273-8255

Resources for Survivors:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,
Metro-New York Chapter Survivor Outreach hotline: (516) 869-4215

Joe’s Project
Hotline: (888) 375-2228

DASH & Dine: The DASH diet promises an easy hypertension fix

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the April issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

Being on a diet in America is akin to choosing an option at a restaurant. There’s Atkins and South Beach for meat lovers, the trusty vegetarian lifestyle for those who like a carb every so often and flexitarian for those who can’t decide. There are also a slew of celebrities endorsing commercial diet giants like Weight Watchers (Jennifer Hudson), Jenny Craig (Kirstie Alley) and Nutrisystem (Marie Osmond). With all this choice, it’s no surprise that Americans spend $60 billion annually to shed the pounds, according to market research firm Marketdata Enterprises.

It appears, however, that the diet industry’s flash and flair just can’t compete with gimmick-free simplicity; for the fifth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named the humble DASH Diet the year’s best overall. Unlike the other 34 diets ranked, including the third-place Mayo Clinic diet and last place’s paleo diet, DASH— Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—is not a diet designed to shed pounds. It was developed by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in the mid-1990s to fight high blood pressure, and considers weight loss an extra benefit. “It’s not really a diet in the sense of, ‘I’ll do this for a few months and then move on,’” said Joseph Diamond, director of nuclear cardiology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and a fellow at the American Society of Hypertension. “It’s a lifestyle modification.”

For 43-year-old Holtsville resident Christine Livingston, DASH sounded like an improvement over her previous “diet” of fast food and snacking over the sink. “You’re eating fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat, you can still have dairy,” she said. “It’s a healthier way to eat—a better lifestyle.” And while Livingston’s 13-year-old son isn’t a fan of veggies quite yet, she said her whole family has benefited from the change. It helped her stabilize her fluctuating blood pressure, reducing her risk of serious health problems and she’s lost about 15 pounds in the 8 years she’s been on the diet. Since adopting DASH, meals in the Livingston home have consisted of mostly organic foods, fish, lean meats and poultry, fresh salads, vegetables, homemade sauces, whole-grain pastas along with low-fat or fat-free dairy, beans, nuts and seeds. Those waiting for the razzle-dazzle might be shocked at the simple, sound approach DASH takes. The focus is on reducing blood pressure and the risk of hypertension. Proponents are encouraged to limit salt intake to 2,300mg per day, about one teaspoon (or 1,500mg for those with diabetes or chronic kidney disease), and to cut back on red meat, sweets, sugary drinks and alcohol. The diet stays within the government’s recommended percentages of daily calories from total fat, protein and carbs, but aims to keep the saturated fat well below the benchmark 10 percent.

An added bonus of the diet, according to Diamond, is that it’s not inherently expensive if dieters make smarter choices—like buying seasonal local fruits and vegetables versus those imported out of season, or local bluefish instead of wild Alaskan salmon. “Even in the fast food world there are now more options in the salad bars,” Diamond said. “It requires some education on how to read food labels.”

Another DASH benefit: it’s not restrictive in the way most diets can be, according to Jennifer Fitzgibbon, a registered oncology dietician at the Stony Brook Cancer Center. While people should remain aware of portions and serving sizes, there’s really no limit on food groups. On diets like Atkins, which Livingston did for nearly a decade before former colleague Fitzgibbon turned her onto DASH, dieters must all but abstain from carbohydrates (no more than 20 grams per day) and focus mainly on proteins and fats. “You can’t live on that,” Livingston said. “It’s so restrictive and that’s not a lifestyle change.” Although she did experience some minor restriction when first adopting DASH, Livingston found it to be sustainable.

“It’s a win-win,” Fitzgibbon said. “You reduce blood pressure and lower your weight,” which reduces risk factors for diabetes, cancer and other diseases. DASH also encourages clean eating, meaning organic food that has not been genetically modified or doused with pesticides. That’s an important aspect for Fitzgibbon, who works with cancer patients and has read up on the possible links between pesticide chemicals and cancer. “The jury’s still out,” she said, “but I think we should be conscious of the pesticide content in our food.”

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Both Fitzgibbon and Diamond find DASH to be especially useful for prevention: high-fiber, plant-based diets are essential to reducing cancer risk factors, and potassium, magnesium, calcium and foods rich in antioxidants hamper heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans. The diet focuses on increasing fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamins B12 and D, which were labeled as “nutrients of concern” in the 2010 dietary guidelines published by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Obesity is still rampant throughout have high blood pressure. Of those 67 million people, fewer than half have the issue under control, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re doing better now than 10 years ago. Education is getting better, but we’re not there yet,” Diamond said, adding that he’s seen an increase in the number of patients with hypertension asking how to utilize lifestyle changes instead of medicine.

In the initial DASH studies, researchers found that the systolic blood pressure in participants with hypertension dropped up to 11 points within a few days of starting the diet. Those with borderline blood pressure saw drops of up to 3.5 points, which Diamond considers significant.

Despite its success and more than 10 years in practice, DASH never became a household name. With a focus on managing high blood pressure, not weight loss, DASH doesn’t have media appeal, Diamond said. In fact, the diet helps lower blood pressure without requiring any weight loss at all. “With these other popular ‘food exclusion’ diets, people follow them usually with the primary intention to lose weight,” Fitzgibbon said, but DASH has a more clinical reputation.

Since snagging the top spot on the best diets list, DASH has garnered some attention. It made headlines globally and became the subject of a number of books, including a cookbook and part of the For Dummies series. But it really is simple, according to Livingston. “You just have to be conscious of what you’re eating and you’ll get accustomed to it,” she said. “Nothing fancy.”

Seeing a man about a dog: Long Island dog whisperers share the dos and don’ts of training

Copyright Long Island Pulse

Copyright Long Island Pulse

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the April issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

Dogs don’t really come with instructions. Sure, even newbie owners have a general idea of what not to do (feed them chocolate) but there’s much more to it if you want a thriving canine companion. Where there are dogs, there are dog trainers. These so-called dog whisperers are as widely varied in background as they are in methodology. Pulse caught up with some of the best to learn about their stories and styles.

For trainer Asha Gallacher, who runs the North Fork School For Dogs with business partner Dawn Bennett, successful dog training requires a hands-off , rewards-based approach. In Glen Cove, Jackie Comitino doesn’t limit herself to any one technique, preferring instead to operate Back 2 Balance Dog Training and Rehabilitation with an open mind and to tailor training to individuals. Meanwhile, SuperPaws Dog Training founder Chris Smith is all about trying whatever works to solve problems and achieve results. Their varied backgrounds made for interesting insights that can help just about every dog owner.

Long Island Pulse: Tell us about the experience that launched you into dog training.
Asha Gallacher: I rescued a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and this dog was really damaged, a really fearful dog. I worked with her intensively and she really came around. It was that love of being able to help this poor animal that was just a bundle of nerves and fear. For her to be able to live a normal life—I said, “Wow, this is awesome. I want to do this again.”

Jackie Comitino: Me and my ex adopted a dog. We did everything we could possibly do wrong and we kind of created a little monster. She followed us everywhere, she whined about everything. Little did we know at the time, we were really just feeding into a lot of anxiety and a lot of problem behaviors that were just beginning to surface. So I started reading up on basic training behaviors and it grew from there.

Chris Smith: I got a German Shepherd that would kind of beat me up a little. I had no a clue what to do with him, so I enlisted the help of a dog trainer. He did a wonderful job with my dog and really inspired me to think that I might be able to do it myself. After a lot of browbeating, he agreed to enlist me as his apprentice.

How early is too early to start training?
AG: You can never start too early. That’s what our philosophy is: start training them now before these problem behaviors occur. For example, jumping up on people. You can eliminate that if you just reward the dog and pet the dog when they’re sitting. That’s it. And then you’ll never have a dog that jumps.

JC: I think you just know in your gut. It really comes down to: do you want to help your dog? The goal is for you to coexist.

Is training more about the dog or the owner?
JC: I’d say it’s all about relationship building. I don’t focus so much on rehearsed behaviors. I focus on what’s [the dog’s] state of mind, getting them to a calm state of mind where they can actually make better choices and I teach the owners how to maintain that. If I can get a dog to do something, that’s great. But I’m not going to be very successful if the owners can’t do it.

CS: Yeah, whatever works for the dog and for the client is what we’ll use.

What’s the most common mistake people make when getting a dog?
CS: I think it’s failing to crate train. Even if you don’t plan on using the crate for a long time, it actually helps the dog build bowel and bladder strength, which makes your life easier.

AG: Socializing puppies young will make your life easier. There’s a very important window… a fear imprint stage and it’s really important that you expose your puppy to positive new things in a very positive way so they don’t develop these fears later on. If you isolate your puppy and don’t allow them to be sponges that can soak in all this information, they develop phobias later in life.

What was your most challenging case? How did you resolve it?
JC: A dog who was guarding his crate. You couldn’t get near it. It was bad. He tried to bite me a few times. Little by little, by counter conditioning and throwing some food in every time I walked by—just making positive associations—we did get to the point where you could take him in and out of the crate without getting your hand ripped off.

CS: His name was Louie. He was a Central Asian Ovcharka—225 pounds and responded to nobody but his owner. It took almost two months of daily interaction before we were able to get close enough where I could pet him without him trying to bite me.

What about the overall most challenging behavior problem?
CS: Fear-aggression is the trickiest.

AG: Well, 99 percent of behavior problems are fear-based.

JC: And aggression in itself, a lot of times, is just fear. Dogs are really the key to help rehabilitate aggressive dogs.

What’s up with the need for dog training on LI specifically?
AG: We’ve found that rural dogs are less socialized than city dogs. From day one, [city dogs are] exposed to noise, trucks, honking, dog parks, loads of people walking by… where our country dogs maybe see one other dog on a walk. Everything is quiet.

CS: Yes and a byproduct of this could also be mentally under-stimulated dogs, which may produce destructive behavior.

Top tips for owners?
AG: Reward the good behavior, ignore behavior you don’t like.

JC: I think it’s more about getting to know dog behavior. If you’re not going to hire a trainer, definitely get to know your dog and dog behavior, just the little subtle signs, and it could create a better relationship.

CS: To create a good relationship from the get-go, you have to do your research, figure out what’s going to be best for you, for your house setup and for your family setup. Make sure you have your resources in place prior to accepting the new member of the family.

Balancing the scale: Health and happiness outweigh aesthetics

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the March issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

Before moving to Woodmere from Queens in 1965, Deah Schwartz hadn’t paid attention to the extra dimples and folds on her budding 9-year-old body. She had no clue that she was chubby and, as a young athlete, never thought her body was “wrong.” But after the move in third grade, the pressure to be thin engulfed her without warning.

Schwartz, now a recreational therapist based in California, said the culture shock left her reeling and, as a result, she battled with her weight for decades. It’s also what eventually led to her embracing Health At Every Size (HAES), a movement supporting healthy habits for health’s sake, rather than for weight control and aesthetics.

“Weight may be a part of how we look at the balance of health, but it can’t lead the way,” said Randi Zimmerman, the director of psychotherapy for the Facilitated Eating Events and Direction (FEED) program at the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative in Jericho. She agreed that focusing on health only as it relates to body size and shape is counterproductive and espoused HAES’s aspiration to change attitudes toward obesity.

“This preoccupation with thinness has not made us healthier,” Zimmerman said. “What it does is stigmatize the overweight and obese, which impedes self-betterment.” To combat the stigma, HAES aims to spread acceptance of size diversity and intuitive eating—reading the body’s natural hunger signals instead of tracking calories or restricting food intake.

The concept is not new. In 1967, The Saturday Evening Post published “More People Should Be Fat!” a story in which author Lew Louderback claimed dieting is emotionally destructive, temporary and therefore less likely to lead to better health. Later, in the 1980s, disparaging diets was almost as fashionable as the fitness craze, and bookshelves around the country filled with titles like Diets Don’t Work, The Dieter’s Dilemma and Breaking the Diet Habit.

Still, the thin-is-in outlook persisted without incident until 2010 when nutritionist Linda Bacon’s book Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight made a splash. “I wanted to support people in improving quality of life and feeling better about themselves,” said Bacon, a health professor at City College of San Francisco and a researcher at the University of California. She labeled HAES a peace movement and, in her book, listed its four tenets: accept and appreciate your size, trust your body’s internal systems, embrace size diversity, adopt healthy lifestyles and find the joy in moving.

HAES gained momentum and reached a new high in 2014, taking pop culture by storm with songs touting heft (Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”), fashion houses and magazines utilizing plus-size models (Calvin Klein and Vogue), and lingerie ad campaigns swapping slogans (Victoria’s Secret “Perfect Body”). It was the year actress Melissa McCarthy’s plump, dimpled face graced the covers of more than a half dozen magazines and Lammily made her debut. The first “normal sized Barbie” was made using the measurements of a typical 19-year-old woman’s body, replete with a sticker package of acne, cellulite, scars and stretch marks.

In an ideal world, this would all be a non-issue, according to Schwartz. “It would be nice if [overweight actresses’] size was not part of the story,” she said, adding that there would be no need to counter the emphasis on thinness as the standard of beauty because “people would appreciate other people on a continuum.”

Even if pop culture and the public begin to embrace size diversity, the medical establishment is “locked into the ‘fat-is-bad’ mentality,” Bacon said. “It’s so ingrained in medical culture to blame everything on weight that it’s just way too hard sometimes for physicians and other medical practitioners to be critical thinkers,” she said. Bacon would like doctors to recognize that placing emphasis on weight loss doesn’t work and wants them to keep an open mind to HAES. “There’s no harm in that,” she said.

At Rockville Centre’s Mercy Medical Center, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation Perry Stein believes there might be. “If this movement is encouraging people to be healthy at any size—making healthy choices such as avoiding processed foods, increasing physical activity, limiting refined sugars—then that’s ok. They’re doing us a service,” he said. “If, on the other hand, it’s saying that everybody is entitled to be whatever weight they want and they shouldn’t pay attention to anyone trying to educate them as to what healthy choices might look like for them, then I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

Although HAES does not advocate obesity, it encourages people to ask physicians for diagnoses and treatments unrelated to weight loss. “The first thing most medical professionals will see is the fat, the weight, the BMI,” Schwartz said, “and they should be treating people more equally.” But this approach could have adverse effects, according to Stein, who said it leaves him “working with one hand tied behind my back.”

It would be foolhardy to ignore the myriad data linking some chronic diseases to obesity, Stein added. North Shore-LIJ’s Nancy Copperman, director of Public Health Initiatives, echoed Stein’s sentiments, noting that in the last few decades the rate of obesity and related chronic illness has doubled and, in some cases, tripled.

Copperman supports HAES’s health-centric message and judgment-free approach, particularly because she believes that obesity is relative and there’s no perfect weight or body size. But she warned: “Our body is not made to carry that much weight; once you get into very high weights, you’re going to have more [health] problems.”

Bacon and Schwartz insisted that ongoing longitudinal studies will provide new data showing that HAES boosts self-esteem and health, and dismissing some of the links between fat and illness. “The HAES research people are really trying to do rigorous studies and those take longer than a year or two,” Schwartz said.

But for Stein, time is of the essence. “I don’t think we can afford to wait so long for studies that [HAES] believes will dispel the notion that there’s a correlation between obesity and chronic disease,” he said. “I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that study to come out.”

Studies or not, HAES has changed Schwartz’s life. “I’ve come to a place where I no longer obsess about my body constantly,” she said. “I know that my yo-yo dieting days are over. I don’t like to measure my self-worth based on my clothing size or weight. I am a perfect size me and it is a daily practice not to care about other people’s opinions.”

Wear your health on your sleeve: Wearable technology provides the data behind overall health

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the February issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

The trendiness of health consciousness is nothing new. America underwent a “reducing” craze in the 1920s, a prenatal pharmaceutical fixation in the 1950s and a bicycle boom in the 1970s. Today digital fitness is all the rage, and it’s easy to see why.

Want a heart-rate reading? There’s an app for that. Need to measure caloric intake? There’s an app for that too. There are even devices that analyze sleep cycles—just strap them onto your wrist and voila. It’s the very embodiment of the digital age: compulsive information consumption.

Whether it’s smartphone applications that require users to input basic information or fitness trackers that simply need initial programming, it’s never been easier to manage the three pillars of health: diet, exercise and sleep. Add the social media aspects of these technologies into the mix and it’s no surprise that the market for digital fitness has exploded. Research firm ON World estimates that 700 million wearable fitness devices will ship globally within the next five years, and that by then the technology will be a $50 billion industry.

That estimate makes sense to Syosset-based nutritionist Karen Ansel, who believes that the popularity of these devices and smartphone applications is rooted in accessibility. “In a perfect world, everyone would be able to have their own personal dietitian,” she said. “Since that’s not an option for most people, technologies that allow you to record what you’re eating and give you instant feedback about the nutritional quality of that food can be an immensely helpful tool for people who are watching their weight. The same goes for exercise.”

These applications go beyond analysis, using manually logged information to track progress, customize reminders and advise users on how much and when to eat. Some of the popular fitness trackers vibrate or flash lights to inform users they’ve been stationary too long. To top it off, these devices encourage users to share their progress online and engage in friendly competition with friends and family members. The social aspect is critical, and it’s why SNS Research anticipates that the market for these products will experience a 40 percent year-over-year growth rate for the next six years.

In the current instant-gratification economy, having data literally on hand is invaluable. For Mike Lynch, a Bethpage-based certified personal trainer, that’s the cornerstone of the industry’s success. “People are gravitating toward this because they want immediate results,” he said. “It can benefit someone who’s sedentary and doesn’t exercise, and is making the decision to embark on a new fitness routine. But if people are looking for magic, it’s going to fail them.”

In nearly two decades of personal training, Lynch, 41, said he’s never counted calories or measured the intensity of his workouts using any devices. But, he’s not a product of the digital age. If these tools provide motivation and help people hold themselves accountable for their health and fitness, he’s all for it. “People just need to work hard,” he said. “It’s called sweat.”

Staying fit might require effort, but obtaining digital and wearable technology certainly doesn’t. Relatively affordable and almost maintenance free, apps, bands and sensors are readily available. And they’ll become increasingly more convenient as investors driven by emerging technology and crowdfunding campaigns continue to pour millions into wearable-tech start-up companies—an estimated $700 million by the end of 2014, according to SNS Research.

“Plus [they’re] fun,” Ansel said. “Who wouldn’t love a gadget that can motivate you to move more and eat better?”

What about sleeping better? Sound sleep is critical to mental and physical health, and devices that measure and quantify sleep are raising awareness to that end, according to Peter Ottavio, a critical care physician and pulmonologist specializing in sleep medicine at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson.

“People are becoming more conscious that sleep is a big portion of our lives, about a third, ideally,” Ottavio said. “But we don’t really know what’s happening during sleep and we kind of want to know, ‘How am I doing compared to everybody else?’”

Although somewhat newer to the digital fitness industry, sleep sensors are making an impact. Some 10 percent of Ottavio’s patients at the hospital’s Sleep Disorder Center have asked about them or are bringing in data they’ve compiled using the devices. “These are things that people are bringing to us, showing us these iPhone apps and saying, ‘Listen, this thing is showing that I’m having multiple interruptions at night.’”

Ottavio said there’s no doubt this is helpful for people trying to determine whether their sleeping problems are the result of external factors like light, noise, temperature or stress. But he emphasized the importance of using the devices in concert with a diary or under the supervision of a physician, because they simply can’t identify potentially serious issues.

Most sleep sensors, like ResMed’s S+ and the Sleep Cycle app, use radio frequency to monitor respiratory and body movements, and then identify the different phases of sleep the user is experiencing. But they can’t detect the most common sleep disorder, sleep apnea, or provide a meaningful analysis for people on medications that intentionally inhibit REM sleep, according to Ottavio.

Still, Ottavio believes that for the right people, all of these health-tracking devices can be put to good use. “It’s great that it’s a much more affordable, portable thing to have in your home and use on a daily basis,” he said.

Tech Times Three
Digital and wearable technology has made monitoring health a cinch: Use wrist bands to track your activity and exercise, phone apps to record diet and nutrition, and sleep sensors for sound slumber.

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Fitbit Charge HR
It’s like wearing a heart on your sleeve. Using the wrist pulse, the device monitors heart rate, counts steps, measures distances, calculates calories and tracks sleep. It also tells time and has caller ID. $150;

Learn while losing. Scan product bar codes at the supermarket for customized nutrition grades and make smarter choices using personalized features that track weight-loss goals. Free, Android, iOS;

ResMed S+
Identify your sleep issues, learn bedtime relaxation techniques, create an ideal sleep environment and wake up gently using a sensor that monitors breathing patterns from a nightstand. $150;

Tails of glory: A walk with Long Island guide dogs

Army veteran Brian Pierce and Gunner, his guide/service dog and best buddy

Army veteran Brian Pearce and Gunner, his guide dog

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the September issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

Gunner, an 80-pound black Labrador retriever, proved himself a true guide dog just four days after meeting his partner. As they slept in a cozy Smithtown dorm room on a cool April night last year, Gunner sensed trouble. He ran over to his new charge, who was lost in a nightmare, and set his reassuring paws on the man’s chest. Gunner nuzzled his buddy’s rib cage and whimpered faintly until the man opened his eyes.

Prodded suddenly awake, Brian Pearce lay gasping in the dark on a small bed crowded by Gunner huddling up against him. In his turbulent sleep, Pearce had been reliving the moment he nearly died seven years earlier while on a tour of duty in Iraq. He’d had the nightmare countless times since then, always trembling in his slumber and awaking alarmed. But this night was different: Gunner was there and he had performed his first successful nightmare interruption.

“He picked up on what he needed to do right off the bat,” said Pearce, an Army veteran who lives with his wife and two children in Virginia. Gunner’s conduct caught Pearce by surprise, but it was a prime example of the work achieved by the Guide Dog Foundation. The Smithtown-based nonprofit has spent seven decades pairing the blind with highly trained dogs—mostly Labs and golden retrievers—using time-tested criteria such as need, lifestyle, pace and personality.

Pearce lost his vision in 2006 when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his Humvee 18 miles north of Baghdad. He also sustained a traumatic brain injury and continues to suffer the ravages of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Foundation staff recognized his need for more than a guide dog and matched him with Gunner, who had also received training from GDF’s sister organization specializing in raising service dogs, America’s VetDogs.

The story of Pearce and Gunner is one of about 150 similar tales that emerge annually from the two organizations that operate almost entirely on donations and spend more than $10 million a year uniting those in need with four-legged companions. “Our mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives,” Chief Executive Officer Wells Jones said. As CEO, he oversees a network of 100 employees and more than 1,500 volunteers located in hubs throughout the East Coast. “This is the type of organization where the whole village is involved,” said Deana Izzo, a long-time GDF trainer and field representative based in Georgia.

Guide dog programs begin even before birth, when breeders—stationed at the foundation’s Smithtown campus—handpick mating pairs to produce the highest quality offspring. Then carefully vetted volunteer puppy raisers, including prison inmates in eight state correctional institutions, foster individual puppies, housebreaking and socializing them for about 12 months.

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine Puppy raiser Susan Semple and Max, who is undergoing training to become a guide dog.

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine
Puppy raiser Susan Semple and Max, who is undergoing training to become a guide dog.

“They never cease to amaze me,” puppy raiser Susan Semple said while keeping close watch over Max, the rambunctious 11-week-old yellow Lab she’s raising. “Every day is a new adventure.

Max is the ninth puppy Semple has raised in her Huntington home in the last eight years and she’s never had a single regret. “People always wonder about that parting moment,” she said. “It’s why people don’t want to raise puppies. But it’s highly overrated as far as being a hard moment. By not being ready for it, you miss a year to fourteen months of pure joy.”

After leaving their foster homes, the puppies return to campus for four to six months of training in their respective fields. Guide dogs learn to lead and orient the visually impaired around obstacles, through crowds and elsewhere. Service dogs are taught to retrieve items, provide balance, respond to seizures and nightmares and assist with physical and psychological rehabilitation. All dogs, including those who end up working as nursing-home pets or law enforcement and military dogs, learn intelligent disobedience and unique evaluation skills. It’s what keeps them flexible and better able to mitigate specific disabilities.

“Exposure to the outside world is critical,” said Izzo. And that’s where the bulk of the training is done: At train stations, in busy residential areas, inside dining establishments and even on airplanes. “Dogs have to be well-socialized to be able to properly assess a situation. We make it as positive as we can for the high-stress environment it can be.”

The dogs are kenneled in Smithtown during their training and up until they’re matched with a recipient, but even then, they’re kept company. Kennel volunteers visit with the dogs daily, feeding and grooming them and cleaning their living quarters. Some also spend up to two hours a visit walking and playing with the dogs.

“They have to know the warmth of a human being,” said Jeannette LaRock. She and her retired husband, Dennis, have been puppy raisers for the better part of a decade and began volunteering at the kennel three years ago. Living nearby, they make regular trips to the campus. “You can’t walk away,” she said. “It sucks you in.” LaRock is proud of their part in improving the lives of those in need. She shed tears reminiscing about a recent encounter with Vinny Boo, a puppy she raised. He looked regal and resolute walking alongside his new handler, an amputee, a gratifying moment for LaRock personally.

But getting there is no easy task. Although the dogs receive casual training early on and official training with the foundations’ 30 instructors (16 for GDF, 5 for VetDogs and 9 traveling field reps like Izzo), the real work doesn’t begin until they’re partnered up. Recipients are invited to stay on campus—or flown in if they live far away—for team training free of charge. They’re given private rooms, served meals cooked by an on-site chef and catered to individually for the duration of their 12-day training program.

The recipients meet their dogs and begin a bonding process that fosters a successful working team. They rehearse basic obedience, recite commands, participate in grooming sessions and practice crossing streets. They learn each other’s abilities, manners and styles; develop a solid rapport and gain an acute understanding of one another.

“What you really have to do is learn to trust your dog,” said Rosanna Beaudrie, a Levittown mom of three who is blind. “Your dog learns to do fifty percent, you learn to do fifty percent.”

It took Beaudrie and her three-year-old black Lab, Jillian, some time to develop trust. They hit challenges early on, but Beaudrie decided to use GDF’s aftercare option to bring the dog’s original trainer to their home.

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine

Once Beaudrie and Jillian overcame their barriers, life together flowed comfortably. “I was very well-matched with Jillian,” Beaudrie said. At the sound of her name, Jillian dropped her neon green football under the kitchen table and bounded toward Beaudrie. “She has an outgoing personality, she’s easy to work with. At home she’s just an ordinary dog, but she’s all business as soon as the harness is on.”

Grateful for her good fortune, Beaudrie jumped at the opportunity to give back. She joined GDF’s alumni council, conducting research and developing literature for projects aimed at offering disabled individuals more amenities in public places. “GDF gave me back my sense of pride, my sense of independence,” she said. “Now I’m trying to help make life easier for the grads.”

Pearce is also spreading awareness of the life-altering potential of GDF and America’s VetDogs. He speaks publicly about the groups, sharing his own story to encourage veterans in need to seek assistance. Pearce returned from Iraq devastated. He’d spent two months in a coma and endured numerous medical issues. He had to retire from his 17-year military career and relearn basic skills. He experienced flashbacks of the day when he was sitting atop a Humvee, gripping a machine gun and surveying the road when an IED exploded and changed his life forever.

Since he teamed up with Gunner, the nightmares have subsided. “If I told you I didn’t have dark days, I’d be lying,” he said. But things are better. “Having a dog gives you purpose. And when you’re feeling the worst about things, that dog will come to you. All he cares about is you. It makes things 100 percent better.”

Pact Mentality: 
A veteran and his dog form a lifetime bond

Up until February, Joseph Gormley was depressed and living a life of isolation in his Floral Park home. Retired, single, hearing impaired and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the 67-year-old leg amputee was fed up. He took his therapist’s advice and reached out to America’s VetDogs.

Gormley spent 12 days at the Smithtown campus getting to know London, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever whose attentive brown eyes and gentle demeanor captivated him and melted some 40 years of pain from his heart.

It didn’t take long for the pair to adjust to life together, even though there were some big changes. Gormley was shy and soft-spoken, but London was friendly and forward. Where he liked to observe, she liked to approach. She brought him out of his shell and he helped her mellow. Socialization became a part of Gormley’s life, whether he liked it or not.

London was trained primarily to alert and orient her hearing-impaired partner to car horns, doorbells, smoke alarms and telephones. As a service dog, she was also taught to retrieve items—including Gormley’s prosthetic leg—open doors, turn light switches on and off and provide balance. But her greatest ability, according to Gormley, is recognizing when her handler is in need of affection.

Drafted into the army at 20, Gormley became a helicopter machine gunner and was sent to combat in Vietnam. He returned a couple of years later, crushed and carrying emotional baggage that would burden him for the next four decades. Gormley bore the burden quietly: He married and raised three children, worked as an electrician and spent his free time as a volunteer firefighter.

But Gormley was suffering from PTSD and combat stress, though he didn’t know it until a routine trip to the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “I went for hearing aids,” Gormley said, “and ended up having a reaction when I saw guys wearing different unit patches. I had a flashback, broke down and started crying.”

That breakthrough started Gormley on his three-year journey to recovery. He underwent a 90-day inpatient PTSD program at Northport and now attends group therapy there. London accompanies him on all of his trips.

“It’s good therapy for other people,” Gormley said. “People are depressed, they see an animal, it changes their attitude completely.”

Adorned in her black and beige harness, London garners attention wherever she and Gormley go—for a stroll around the block, an outing at the dog run or a long walk through nearby Alley Pond Park. “There’s times I’m up and out at five in the morning with her. This young lady loves the water and rolling in it, mud puddles and all,” Gormley said. “She’s had more baths…my friends laugh. They say, ‘Who’s taking care of who?’”

Dogged determination on the front lines of animal rescue


Volunteers from the Riverhead Shelter Volunteer Program’s outreach group Liz, left, and Kelly during a weekly run. Three times a week they deliver food, water, hay and medical supplies to more than 50 chained and neglected dogs throughout eastern Long Island.

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article was originally slated to appear in the March 2014 issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. For safety purposes, no identifying information, such as last names or hometowns, was used in this article.]

The volunteers of the Riverhead Shelter Volunteer Program work in impoverished neighborhoods beset by drug dealers, prostitutes and gangs. Rain or shine, they traverse rundown properties; yards strewn with litter or barren save for neglected dogs perpetually chained outdoors. They interact with some of the most dangerous people living in some of the most insulated communities on Long Island. They do it because they ache for their cause.

 The nonprofit dog-rescue group known as RSVP is unlike any other operating on Long Island. The community outreach arm is comprised of 10 members who thrice weekly deliver supplies — food, water, medicine, bales of hay — to more than 50 dogs who live their lives at the end of a length of chain.

 Anywhere from four to eight hours at a time, they work with delinquents, convicts and backyard breeders whose trust they’ve earned by investing time, being persistent and operating without judgment. They educate them on pet care and often successfully convince them to spay and neuter their dogs. In the last decade, RSVP has extricated about 375 dogs from abusive homes and found them sanctuary.

 Although RSVP has been working to stop pet abuse, neglect and overpopulation since 1996, it wasn’t until Kelly “The Dog Lady” joined in 2004 that it became the force it is today. “I didn’t even know what a pit bull was,” she said on a recent run. “I didn’t know about backyard breeding and I certainly didn’t know about dogs being chained up.”

 As soon as she became aware of the problem, Kelly took action. “There was no turning back,” she said. “I felt that it was my passion, my calling to be out there helping these animals. They’re souls—they’re living souls that we can help. If we turn our back, they don’t have a voice.”

 And she won’t turn her back. The 55-year-old mother of three was back in her small yellow pick-up truck —“RSVP Dog Rescue” stickers on its doors, brimming with supplies — making deliveries barely a month after suffering a major injury. At one of the regular houses on her run, a pit bull lunged at and bit her chin, causing lacerations that required 80 stitches and multiple plastic surgeries. But volunteering with RSVP has become a way of life for Kelly and other members of the group. They bargain, barter and beg pet owners to accept their help; spend personal money on supplies, and give of their own time to prepare meat donations to supplement dry dog food. Many of them, Kelly included, foster dogs relinquished to RSVP.

 Kelly and others have made it their mission to spread awareness about the issue. “People need to realize that this still happens in this day and age, right here on Long Island,” said Liz, a community outreach volunteer who’s been with RSVP for two years.

 The work Kelly, Liz and their fellow RSVP outreach members do is controversial. Despite infiltrating communities that are difficult to access, the volunteers have been accused of enabling pet abusers by giving them supplies and providing medical care for their dogs. But they believe the work they do is an absolute necessity.

 “We try to brighten the lives of animals out there,” Liz said.

 “And if we don’t initiate a change now,” Kelly added, “who suffers? The animals. How long do we wait before the laws get changed?”

 The volunteers said they’re about taking matters into their own hands. “We’re like the little group that could,” Kelly said.

 In addition to heir work with chained canines, RSVP works with cats, rabbits and other small creatures. What the group needs now is support: financial donations, food, medicine, veterinary care, foster homes, permanent adoption homes, a storage facility and a bigger truck. They also encourage people to become educated about the issue and to lobby for better laws and better law enforcement.

 Visit for more information.

All knives on deck

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine Robert Reed runs the kitchens at the Montauk Yacht Club Resort and Marina, using his attention to detail to create edible wonders.

Copyright Long Island Pulse Magazine
Robert Reed runs the kitchens at the Montauk Yacht Club Resort and Marina, using his attention to detail to create edible wonders.

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article and its accompanying photos originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine. This content is the rightful property of Long Island Pulse Magazine.]

Robert Reed’s love of the paring knife is telling. The head chef has a way of always carrying the short, sharp blade around the kitchen of the Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina. The knife’s specialty is painstaking, detailed work, even when wielded by someone responsible for feeding a hundred guests at once on any given summer weekend.

Sure, prepping live Maine lobster, striped bass and mussels doesn’t call for a paring knife, but there’s still plenty of use for Reed’s favorite tool. He digs its tip into the white flesh of a radish, carving it into an elegant rose. He uses it to shape seven-sided chateau potatoes that await tourné-ing. Or sometimes, just to clean crabs. “The food, at the end of the day, is the art,” Reed said. “It’s the reason I’m in this business. If it wasn’t for my passion for being in the kitchen and mentoring the staff and teaching the kids out of college, this job wouldn’t be any fun and I’d be working at the bank.”

Life in a cubical, shuffling paperwork is hard to imagine for someone like Reed. Growing up on the shores of Chicago’s Lake Michigan he took advantage of the proximity to water: Fishing, snorkeling, reef diving and riding a scooter along the picturesque roads. And while he still casts a line from time to time, the scooter has been upgraded. Reed zips across Montauk Highway’s untouched vistas on an electric-blue Honda Nighthawk 750 motorcycle. “No matter how tough my day’s been in the kitchen,” Reed said, “no matter how many hours I’ve worked, a nice ride home on the motorcycle with the wind in my face and the sound of the machine—by the time I get home, I’ve forgotten everything that’s happened.”

Classically trained in and expressly fond of French cuisine, Reed adheres rigidly to what he picked up in culinary school in San Francisco. Convivial Julia Child aside, French cooks are fanatics about the processes in the kitchen. After all, French cuisine “is the mother of all cuisines,” Reed said. “It’s the vehicle from which all other forms of culinary expression grow.” Reed’s training also explains his purist palate and preference for clean dishes like duck confit and rabbit ragù, where natural flavors are enhanced, not masked, by spices, sauces and seasonings.

Reed is not just the big-picture guy who manages the kitchens, schedules and staff. He’s also the garde manger, prep cook and expediter; he gets his hands dirty working the line, shoulder-to-shoulder with the staff. “I’m trying to bring the human element to the kitchen,” he said. “Liveliness.” And that sentiment is not reserved for the interactions with his cooks. It’s also what he feels when he reaches into the refrigerator for a lobster. “They’re alive. How many times can you actually reach into the refrigerator and grab something that’s still alive?”

Reed’s fondness for the ocean has taken him from the shores of San Diego to the island of St. Maarten. Now living a stone’s throw from the water in Montauk, Reed is exploring local bays while boating, scuba diving and water skiing. “The smells, the birds and the people that the ocean draws—it’s the best,” Reed said. “The sea will change your life.” And while the paring knife is used for detail work, working near the waters off Montauk Point might just be the most important detail of all for Reed.