Walking a dog is often portrayed as a quintessentially American pastime. Patrick Fabian, though, sees a thick vein of Eastern wisdom running through the undertaking. You might call it sniffing to serenity.
“Talk about being present,” Fabian says. “What are we doing now? Where are we going here? What are you smelling? Hey, stay away from that! Hey, get out of there! What are you rolling in?”
That Fabian slips seamlessly into the role of beleaguered dog owner isn’t surprising, given his 25-year career in Hollywood. Fabian, 51, has played a cradle-robbing professor in Saved by the Bell: The College Years, an evangelical minister in The Last Exorcism, and dozens of roles in between. In the last two years, he’s reached a new level of fame as smooth-talking lawyer Howard Hamlin on AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul.
But Fabian’s performance in this phone call is informed more by the 17-year relationship he had with Ruby, the shepherd/Lab mix that he rescued from a Los Angeles shelter in the 1990s.
“We threw balls in Santa Monica and we drove across the country and we ended up in New York City on 9/11,” he remembers. “She shared my life with me. And that’s all because a friend of mine gave me a pound slip.”
Fabian says Ruby, who died in 2015, taught him “so much about responsibility, about showing up, about companionship.” So it’s fitting that he would now support A Voice for Lil Olive, a story that celebrates the bond between a dog and the woman who rescued her, Pam Horton.
Of course, Lil Olive also advocates for the ending of puppy mills in America, and that resonates with Fabian, too. When he was bouncing from shelter to shelter during his search for a companion, Fabian discovered just how many rescued dogs are in need of homes — and how many of them never find one. Ruby, in fact, only evaded that fate because a shelter representative happened to give Fabian a jarring but well-timed education on how the system works.
“I said, ‘I think I’m going to get this dog, but I’m going to come back next Saturday,’” he remembers, “and she just said, matter-of-factly, ‘Oh honey, that dog’s not going to be here on Monday. … [T]his is a kill shelter. She’s been here too long.’
“And I was like, “Give her to me, right now, this minute.’”
Helping others understand what it means to rescue a dog — and, on the flipside, to avoid the puppy-mill pipeline — is key to making lasting change. And in this arena, Fabian’s already gone from student to teacher. As a celebrity ambassador for the Best Friends Animal Society, he’s emceed various Super Adoption events, which he likens to “a little Woodstock of animals.”
He also appears in public with T-shirts promoting Best Friends, or bearing slogans like “No Kill L.A.” Over time, he says, he’s been encouraged to see more and more people getting the references, or at least asking him to explain. It shows a shift in awareness that can portend something profound.
“Change is possible,” he says. “Doctors used to smoke in their offices, right? They don’t do that anymore. People used to drive without safety belts; we don’t do that anymore. People used to drink when they were pregnant; we don’t do that anymore.”
And as A Voice for Lil Olive will show, most everyone can play a role in advancing the cause.
“You don’t have to be a giant advocate with a capital ‘A,’ but a small advocate with a small ‘a,’” he says, “and when somebody is talking about getting a dog, recommending them the correct way, recommending the way that doesn’t encourage puppy mills. I think the carrot is always much, much better than the stick.”
Then, maybe sounding just a tiny bit like Howard Hamlin, Fabian adds, “For the people who are running the puppy mills, I think the stick is absolutely fine. Whatever laws we can create to go ahead and bring [an end to the industry] to bear is a good thing.”
— Kirk Woundy
Copyright 2016 Shelter Island Films
A Voice for Lil Olive is a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Pete Schuermann. The film explores the special bond between pets and their families, and how rescued dogs change lives. The film's mission is to make people aware of and to change attitudes about rescued pets through the telling of Lil Olive’s tale. In this way, she becomes the voice for so many dogs and animals in need.