Ruby D., a 45-pound bull mastiff puppy, really wants to ignore her owners' "stay" command; Ruby D. really would rather leap up and bound across the park. But today she is under the watchful eye of her owner, Marcy Blaze, and her trainer, Dorit Fituci--and she's also enduring the patient stare of Kitty. Kitty is Fituci's German shepherd, a former member of the Israeli Army who won several medals for her service during the Persian Gulf War.
At the appropriate word (in Hebrew) from Fituci, Kitty sits, stands, lies down, runs. At two words, the dog locates a set of car keys hidden 50 yards away. With no verbal cues whatsoever, Kitty marches at Fituci's heel, turning with her as if on a dime.
Ruby D. can't do any of these things yet, but she seems to have sniffed some of the star quality. She looks at Kitty and whines. And today, for the first time ever, she's actually staying. "You have to mean it," Fituci says, instructing Blaze to issue her commands sternly. "She has to know you mean it."
Fituci, 22, began her career as a trainer nine years ago in her native Israel only because her dog was biting the neighbors. A year and a half later, she got Kitty and decided to train her. By this time, Fituci understood how to read a dog, how to use her imagination to teach it to follow commands. "I don't like to work with books," she says, "every dog is different. You have to read the dog."
Kitty soon became a champion in Schutzen, the classic German method of tracking, obedience and protection. When Fituci entered the army at 18, she and Kitty were invited to try out for the elite dog corps.
During the tryout, the animals had to search for four soldiers hidden in a bombed-out building. All the other dogs found the men in 20 minutes; Kitty found them in four. During the Gulf War, Kitty earned several commendations for finding 30 people who were lost or buried in the rubble of buildings hit by Scud missiles fired by Iraq.
Kitty is now retired in Sherman Oaks and Fituci trains other people's animals. She brings Kitty with her every once in a while, "to show my clients what is the best."
Ruby D.'s owner is duly impressed. "This is going to be a big dog," Blaze says of the animal that will likely reach about 130 pounds, "and if I don't earn her respect, I've got big trouble. Dorit's already earned it. It's amazing. I mean, when she says 'stay,' I want to stay."