Roger Caras once told me, “I don’t give a *–expletive–* what people spend on their pets, they don’t care how much money you have; they do care how much love you have.”
If your dog or cat looked toward the heavens on February 18, it’s because their keen ears picked up on the barks of joy and reverberating purring as Caras was greeted at gates of heaven. Caras died at 72, due to heart failure.
If ever there was a modern day St. Francis, it was Caras. Arguably, the most prolific animal writer ever, even the obituaries are unclear on how many books he really did write – it seems somewhere between 65 and 75. From 1991 through ’99 he was the president of the New York City-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Caras originated the animal beat on network TV in 1965; covering critters of all kinds for NBC News and “The Today Show,” before moving to “Good Morning America” and “20/20” for ABC where he enjoyed a 16 year run. His awards and honors are too numerous to mention, even more numerous are the number of animals who benefited from his caring. His is survived by his Jill, his wife of 46 years, two children, four grandchildren, assorted rescued dogs, cats, retired racing greyhounds, three horses, a llama and even a 1,500 lb. steer.
Obituaries state facts, but they don’t offer a glimpse to what a person was really like. Here are some remembrances from those who knew him well.
Broadcaster and dog lover Joe Garagiola worked with Caras on “The Today Show” and more recently on the broadcasts of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show: “His smile, his sense of humor was as big as he was. I remember the first time I heard that big voice. Wow! He convinced the network to report on animals before it became politically correct, or even accepted.”
Vicki Croke, “Animal Beat Columnist” Boston Globe, and segment host “Living on Earth” on National Public Radio. She met Caras for a 1989 interview, and remained close friends: “He got his job because initially no one else wanted the beat. He took full advantage. He was truly an outstanding journalist.”
Mordecai Siegal, who has 28 books to his credit, calls Caras a mentor. He met Caras in 1971: “My ex-wife and I were driving in our little bug in the Hamptons, and got lost. I was this struggling writer about to release my first book about dogs (“Good Dog/Bad Dog”), and didn’t have a dime to my name. We got lost, and wound up in front of a mailbox with the name Roger Caras. I thought, ‘My God, it’s Roger Caras!’ Despite the fact that it was 8:30 in the morning, I knocked at the door.
In this deep growl of a voice, a man answers, ‘Yes, can I help you?’ He was wearing a white terry cloth bathrobe, and explained he just returned from saving 150 mustangs that were going to be slaughtered and was asleep. But he was so incredibly kind and hospitable, and asked us inside for coffee. To get to his kitchen we walked by cats and dogs – I don’t know how many; I’m sure I lost count. He introduced me to his house guest as if he had known me for 20 years instead of 20 minutes.”
Croke: “He and Jill loved to entertain. I was inconsolable about my dog that had just died. He insisted I come for dinner. His guest that night was Jane Goodall. We sat in the living room and sipped on Jameson’s (whisky), discussing over and over and over again strategies for dealing with chimpanzees being used for lab research. Jack Lemon, Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings were among his famous friends. He and Jill loved people. And famous people loved him. He absolutely lived his passion for animals. He knew about wild animals as much as he did about dogs and cats, down to their scientific names.
Siegal: “His presence was huge, and he spoke with great authority. Arguing with him was like arguing with an Oak Tree. You won’t win. He never doubted his views, which made his quite persuasive.”
Steven Elkman, chairman of the board of the ASPCA met Caras about 12 years ago: “You bet, when he dug his feet in there was no changing his mind. Well, once I did. On de-clawing – which he felt was inhumane. While I agree, I got him to understand better to de-claw as a last resort than to have yet one more stray.”
Croke: “Going to a dog show with Roger Caras was like going to a concert with Mick Jagger. But he’d always go up to a young child, and say ‘Did you know…’ He could connect with children in a special way.”
Elkman: “He could dazzle people wearing his tux at those fancy dinners, and raise money like no one else could just by his sheer presence.”
Garagiola: “Only a few years back at Westminster a dog did a number, I mean relieved himself. The crowd gasped. Roger knew just what to say, “After all, this is a dog show. He was a consummate professional.
Croke traveled to various countries with Caras, who routinely led wildlife excursions for tourists: “In Africa, he overheard me saying, ‘When I grow up, I want to be Roger Caras in a dress.’ I can’t tell you what his retort was; let’s just say the language was quite colorful. But boy I must say he was quick witted.”
Siegal: “He had been having some health problems, and then he had a heart attack while on a cruise in the Caribbean. He eventually made it back to Miami but apparently had an allergic reaction to medication, before he was finally able to return home. Still, it broke his heart that for the first time in many years he didn’t announce this year’s Westminster Dog Show. And it just wasn’t the same. “
Croke: “I spent the day after he died at the zoo. I’m in awe of what he did with his life, proof that one man can make a difference.”
Siegal: “I understand he didn’t want a funeral; he wanted a celebration, and at his home where all his animals can attend. Just sounds right, doesn’t it?”
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