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Dogs have a big-hearted friend in Joan Rivers

No question, Joan Rivers loves dogs.

"Dogs are easier to love than people; they're certainly more dependable," she says by phone. "Once they love you, that's it. A true friend in life is a dog."

She adds that her dogs -- even those who've long since passed on -- still comfort her, all in urns strewn around her dressing room.

"I'm 80, so you can imagine how many of those I have," Rivers says.

This Saturday (April 12), America will share in another loss on the reality show "Joan and Melissa" on We TV. During filming of the episode, Rivers' Pekingese, Max, died.

"A friend conducted a funeral, and it was so outlandishly funny, that's what got me through the day," she says. "It was the kind of send-off Max deserved. We were as close as you can get with a dog. If I was in a room, Max was right there at my side."

More sensitive types might be offended at Rivers and friends laughing in the wake of death.

"Listen, humor has been my way of getting over everything in life, that and being busy, busy, busy," she says. "And I say, get another dog. I did that already; it doesn't take me long."

Those sensitive types might also believe that getting another dog so quickly is disrespectful to Max's memory.

"I loved Max, and he knew I loved him," she answers. "But he's gone now. I try to fill the void as quickly as I can; it's good for me. But it's also good for whatever dog is brought into my life, since I only get rescues."

Our conversation is suddenly interrupted by a loud sound, and then Joan screaming, "They're morons!"

She's hollering at a group of motorcycle riders passing by. One of the many stunts she's tried with her often reluctant daughter, Melissa, on their reality show was riding a motorcycle last season.

"It will never happen again," Joan says. "Do you really want me going through traffic on a motorcycle? I don't think so. In a car, I'm that old woman staring through the center of the steering wheel with the turn signal on, though I have no intent to turn."

Her newest canine addition is a Japanese Chin named Teegan. Rivers laughs, as she often does when relaying something funny; she can barely get out the words.

"It would only happen to me," she says. "I get this deformed and confused, cross-eyed dog. No wonder. Teegan is a Japanese male dog with an Irish woman's name."

Rivers' other dog is a 6-year-old Havanese. She's aware that the breed was originally bred to perform circus tricks.

"Are you kidding? All she knows is come and get it," Rivers notes.

And yes, the comic concedes, "I am now that horrible little old lady walking in the park with two dogs dressed alike; the coats and leashes all match. After all, I do represent fashion," she says, referring to her role on "The Fashion Police."

Rivers appeared on several TV shows, including the "The Tonight Show," with a Yorkshire Terrier named Spike. She traveled the country with him, and Spike even made (with Joan) the cover of People magazine.

"To this day, people without a clue say, 'Hey, Joan, where's Spike?'" she says. "You're kidding? Spike would be 40 now. He's a dog; he's in dog heaven, or wherever souls go. I hope when I go that's the direction I go in -- where the dogs are."

Rivers' career began well before "The Tonight Show," but after dozens of guest appearances, she was personally tabbed by Johnny Carson as the show's permanent guest host, and arguably catapulted to super-star status. When she accepted an offer in 1986 to host her own talk show -- the first woman to do so -- Carson famously banned her from "The Tonight Show," presumably holding a grudge because Rivers jumped ship.

What wasn't as well known is that Jay Leno maintained the Rivers embargo for all the years he was host. Jimmy Fallon broke the ban, inviting her on as one of his first guests after he took over for Leno. It was 28 years away from "The Tonight Show." There are dog years, but Rivers prefers "nose years." She says she was last on "The Tonight Show" four noses ago.

Why in the world did Leno have a problem with Rivers?

"I don't know, really, I don't know," she says. "He was a moron and stupid. But I guess the lesson to be learned is that if you stick around long enough and don't sleep with anyone, you'll be a success. I say that because no one wanted to sleep with me."

A sense of humor must count for something.

"Right," laughs Rivers. "Yes, sure, Victoria Secret models are all about their sense of humor; that's how Bambi and Giselle get ahead. It has nothing to do with their breasts; they tell great jokes."

After over 50 years in show business, Rivers is still having fun.

"I need to keep going. If I were David Letterman, they'd have to pull me out of that chair," she says. "I'm not going anywhere."

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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