Friday, May 27, 2011

An Adventure I'll Never Forget

Today, Friday, May 27th, the interview I did with Dick Gordon of "The Story" airs on radio stations across the U.S. But you can listen to the interview here: Don Ray's Vietnam Veterinary Experience

It's the story of being a combat dog handler in Soc Trang, below Vietnam's Mekong Delta, in 1968. It's about being designated a veterinarian technician with no training, no experience and no supervision. It's about taking care of the medical needs of 12 Army dogs as well as dozens of G.I.s' pet animals on the remote airstrip.

And it's about having to deal with a mysterious disease that was killing American dogs in the war zone. If you can't connect with the link above, Go to and search for Don Ray. By the way, the story about the Vietnam dogs is about 2/3 of the way into the podcast.

The experience made me convinced that would, one day, become a veterinarian. When I left the Army, I enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College with the goal of taking the school's pre-veterinarian courses and then transferring to U.C. Davis's School of Veterinary Medicine. Unfortunately, there were so man young men taking classes at Pierce that, in my four years there, I never had enough credits to get into one of the pre-vet classes. The guys were there, I believe, so that they could avoid the draft by being in college. So in the end, I would take journalism classes and, well, you know the rest.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Remembering Dr. Leo Buscaglia

If you were in Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco in the 1980s, you probably didn't know Dr. Leo Buscaglia --- even though he was a professor at USC, a best-selling author and a lecturer who was famous across the United States and in much of the world.

My friend, Carol Tashiro (that was her name back then) had moved to Phoenix from California. She sent me an audiotape of some guy named Buscaglia and suggested that I would be inspired by what this guy said. Being a typically skeptical Angeleno, I avoided putting the cassette in the player. In my mind, the last thing I wanted to hear was someone trying to brainwash me. Not me.

Eventually, Carol asked me to return the tape, which I did.

Fast forward a year or two and now I'm working in Phoenix as an investigative reporter/producer. Our station was airing one of the very popular Leo Buscaglia lectures and I was helping out in the editing room as the technicians prepped the recorded video for broadcast.

My body language, I'm sure, was a crossed-arm expression of cynicism as I listed, again and again, to this man trying to spread the word about living a loving life. Balderdash!

At some point, I realized that he was asking nothing of the viewers. He wasn't really selling anything, and he seemed to have no personal stake in how people responded. I think think the fact that most of the audience wanted to hug him afterwards was what made me suspicious. I guess it scared me a bit. Was he manipulating people?

When I learned that he would be coming to the Phoenix area for a couple of "performances" --- and that we would be taping it and producing the TV special, I asked my boss if I could arrange a one-on-one interview with him. After all, I had not seen anyone ask him direct questions.

"Absolutely not!" my boss exclaimed. The last thing he wanted was an investigative reporter with a reputation for doing tough interviews asking the beloved Dr. Buscaglia anything at all.

I've never been good at rejections from insecure bosses, so I wrote a personal letter to Dr. Buscaglia and gave him an honest assessment of my reason for wanting to interview him. He responded with the most warm letters I've ever received and agreed to allow me to do an in-depth, one-on-one interview with him the morning after the first of his two performances.

I wasn't terribly tough on him, but I did ask the questions that reflected both the suspicions I first had about him, and my own, personal questions about living my life. Shortly after this interview, Dr. Buscaglia entered the hospital for multiple heart-bypass surgery. He died of a heart attack in early 1992.

Recently, I sent a facebook message in which I shared my victory over my own anger. My friend Jeanne (Barron) Aikman asked me to share the secret of my transformation. I haven't yet explained it all, but this may have been the beginning. The interview runs about 28 minutes, so maybe you can't watch it now. But I promise you that, if you're feeling even the slightest bit unhappy, watching this will help:

If you get a chance to watch this, forgive me for my youth and inexperience. Also, it would be great if you could rate it or leave a comment. Thanks.