As Marie Barone, Raymond’s mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Doris Roberts is one of the most recognized faces on TV. The veteran actress isn’t easily upstaged, unless she’s with her 11-year old Labrador retriever, Max.
Roberts says, “We had done a television show in Philadelphia, and then on the way to the next one, we stopped to get coffee. We were coming out of the shop when a woman came by who was so excited that she said, ‘Oh there’s Max!’ And, oh, you’re that lady who goes with Max.”
In August, Roberts hit the road, going on a four-city tour with Max talking about pain relief and caring for senior pets. Max traveled with Roberts in an RV with an entire entourage, including publicists from the pharmaceutical company Roberts’ represented, Roberts’ son-in-law and a veterinarian in what they called “A Drive Against Pain.”
From all accounts, Max adored the attention as he visited radio and TV stations. “Look at this picture now,” says Roberts. “Max is upstairs lolling in his room at the Ritz-Carlton, probably ordering room service. And I have more interviews to do.”
Max and millions of dogs like him have osteoarthritis. “I noticed the little things first,” says Roberts. “He was having some problems getting up from the floor and going up and down stairs. I just assumed that he was getting to be an old dog. It didn’t occur to me he might be in pain.”
Roberts also has arthritis, so she knows what Max has been feeling. “Unlike me, our dogs usually don’t complain when they hurt,” she says. “There are millions of dogs who are on a medication for osteoarthritis, but millions of dogs continue to be pain because their people never know their dog is hurting. I didn’t know it. And I feel so guilty that days, weeks, months went by. If it wasn’t for a vet visit, Max would still be in pain. You have to be observant and you have to report what you see to your veterinarian. I take medication for my arthritis, so I think it’s wonderful our dogs have options, too.”
The option Roberts chose is Rimadyl (Pfizer Animal Health). “There’s no question Max seems younger again, and he’s more agile,” she says. “What’s most important is that I can tell he no longer hurts.”
Dr. Bernadine Cruz of Aliso Viejo, CA is also on the road with Max. “Arthritis in dogs is progressive. It starts off subtle, as a dog loses muscle mass, it hurts more, so the dog does less and gains weight. The weight gain creates more stress on the joints and the inactivity worsens the pain and soon the arthritis is worse too. And the vicious cycle continues.”
That’s why Cruz advocates senior pets visit veterinarians twice a year. Typically, dogs and cats visit the veterinarian once a year, often in conjunction with annual vaccines. However, one year drags out to the equivalent of six to nine years of aging in dogs and cats. Imagine an 80-year old person getting a general physical examination only every six to nine years. This would be considered elder neglect.
Vets now know, just as is the case for people, relief for osteoarthritis goes beyond popping a pill. Cruz says, “Swimming is fantastic, it’s not weight bearing and it eases the joints,” she says. Some don’t care to get their fur wet, but Labradors typically relish doing the doggy paddle.
Cruz adds, “Taking at least one daily walk is very helpful, when you’re up and going it eases the stiffness. It’s a good idea to avoid walking on concrete, choose grass or a softer surface.”
Roberts is quick to chime in. “Max has an orthopedic bed and a raised water dish (so he doesn’t have to bend down to drink). Sometimes I wish I had a raised water dish.”
“I really believe more and more people want to help their pets, they just have no idea there’s something wrong,” Roberts adds. Not only is Max hobbled by arthritis, two years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. Reflecting on his recovery, Roberts says: “Sometimes, I think we can look at our dogs and learn about resiliency.”
Roberts knows a thing or two about resiliency. The 70-year old actress is celebrating her 40th year in show biz. She first appeared on Broadway in 1955 in “Time of Your Life.” On TV, she’s co-starred alongside great funny ladies in “The Mary Tyler Moore Comedy Hour” and “Lily Tomlin Comedy Hour,” and she was a regular on “Remington Steele,” as well as the star of many made for TV movies. She’s an eight time Emmy Nominee, and won the award for her portrayal of a bag lady on “St. Elsewhere.” She’s also appeared in 24 movies. Clearly, this woman has paid her dues and is well respected among colleagues. However, her role on the “Raymond” is somehow considered a breakthrough.
“I’ve certainly been a familiar face for a long time, but I understand,” she says. “People love Marie, even though she does awful things. My character is so intrusive, such a control freak and pain in the neck that you can hate this woman. But people don’t hate her because despite all these terrible things she does, you understand it stems from love. Peter Boyle (plays Frank Barone, her husband) and I really seem like we’ve been married for 50 years. The show is perfectly cast. I’m proud that we can help people to laugh about their own parents. There are times in our lives when we have to laugh.”
Roberts says she wants to use her new-found celebrity to appear on the stage in New York City again, and bring in the TV audience. And she wants to continue promoting better lives for companion animals. She proudly talks about a dog named Doris who is being trained by a prison inmate to eventually work as a seeing eye dog. “The prisoners train the dogs as a preliminary step, some graduate to eventually becoming seeing eye dogs. The dogs who don’t graduate still go on to help visually challenged children or to live in a senior center. The inmates get so much out of this program, because the dogs don’t judge them. It’s a win, win, win program called Puppies Behind Bars (www.puppiesbehindbars.com).”
Roberts gets up from her seat slowly, “Yes,” she laughs. “It’s the arthritis. I feel your pain, Max.”
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