It’s got to be something in their water. Rudy is a 16-year-old American Staffordshire terrier, and despite having his spleen removed and being hobbled by arthritis, he still gets around great. His owner is actress Barbara Eden. Mother Nature has clearly been equally as kind. The actress turned 66 years old Aug. 23. It’s been 30 years since “I Dream of Jeannie” went off the air, yet she looks slim enough to easily squeeze back into her bottle.
“Well, neither Rudy nor I play as much as we used to,” she giggles. What’s really eerie isn’t only how great Eden looks, it’s how she sounds. That naïve giggle is exactly the same as it was when any moment Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) would walk into a room, and demand, “Jeannie!!!!”
She continues, “These days Rudy is so talkative. It’s like this old dog tells me everything, grrruf, rrrooof, grrruf,” as she continues making doggy sounds between more giggles.
Having an American Staffordshire terrier has been an education for Eden, who has surrounded herself with four-legged friends for most of her life. She rattles off, Spotty the fox terrier she had as a kid; the cat whose name she can’t recall; Mitten a small mixed breed; Rufus the German shepherd dog, and a miniature poodle named Maggie.”
Actually, it was her husband, Los Angeles, CA real estate developer Jon Eicholtz, who adopted Rudy. “He’s always loved people, but people don’t always love Rudy,” she says. “If they see us, they cross over to the other side of the street.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone – at least any man – crossing to the other side of the street when Barbara Eden is walking toward you. Again, she giggles. “Okay, this makes an even stronger case – they think Rudy is a pit bull, and they’re petrified. But they’re not very educated. The truth is American Staffordshire terriers were one of the most popular family dogs in the 1930’s because of their reputation for being so benign and tolerant. You have to train them to be mean, and that isn’t always easy because they tend to have a slow boiling point. They do have the equipment to do some damage, they have a big mouth. But they don’t know it. Poor Rudy is so misunderstood.”
When informed of the breed specific legislation now sweeping Germany, which would outlaw American Staffordshire terriers in that country, she says, “This is so silly, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s too bad the dog is punished, that’s backwards. If someone trains a dog to attack without provocation, then that person should be prosecuted for animal abuse.”
Aside from her role as Jeannie, Eden has guest starred on many TV sitcoms, and for a time was a queen of TV movie of the weeks. On the big screen, she’s appeared with Elvis Presley in “Flaming Star” in 1960, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961),” “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962),” and “The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).”
Eden says she believes animals understand far more about us than we give them credit for. “The problem is we don’t want to take the time or effort to understand them.”
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