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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 16: A posthumous connection with a trainer

November 3, 2008 |  7:45 am

Heidi_2 This is Heidi. She was "discovered" this year in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was the result of seeing a biscuit just out of reach.

As we recount the story of Heidi’s studio training –- which her trainer, Sue DiSesso, says must transcend the “parlor tricks” of the average obedient house dog if Heidi wants to get work — we pause to pay our respects to Moe DiSesso, Sue’s third husband, who died in July 2007 at age 83.

Husband No. 1, the late Bob Davis, was a Navy man who eventually worked for Dewey Pest Control; No. 2, the adventurous Buz Lunford, is featured in the book “Snakehunting on the Devil’s Highway,” by Lunford’s pal Richard Lapidus.

Moe_disesso_2But it was not until she married Moe, a generation her senior, that Sue found her soul mate. I particularly enjoyed Sue’s story about helping Moe, pictured at left, train hundreds of rats for the 1971 movie “Willard.” Rats eat too slowly to be effectively rewarded with treats, so instead, Sue kissed them. “Moe said: ‘Are you really going to kiss 300 rats?’ I told him yes,’ ” Sue recalls with a laugh.

For fans of scary critters, Sue’s students have also included a tarantula who can lift one leg and wave hello. And at the end of one of Heidi’s training sessions, Sue had to dash off because, she explained, “I have to go work out a frog.”

There used to be a few goldfish who lived in the fountain in my front garden; more recently, there was just one survivor, bigger and tougher than the rest. After hearing about the rats, as well as other tales of the Hollywood exploits of Moe and Sue, I decided to name the last fish “Moe.”

Unfortunately, Moe the fish, is, well, no Moe; we suspect he was eaten by a raccoon who also pretty much tore up the fountain; my fault for ignoring Heidi’s 2 a.m. growling at the door.

But Moe — DiSesso, that is, not the fish — lives on in my house because of the trainer’s special posthumous connection with Heidi. On her first day of training, Heidi received, through Sue, a special gift from Moe: one of the small metal training “clickers,” imported from Australia, that Moe kept in his secret stash. When Heidi gets it right, she gets a “click” and a treat to cement the behavior in her brain.

Many dog trainers use clickers, but the DiSessos found this brand particularly effective, and Sue doesn’t know how to get them anymore. I poked around on the Internet myself, but couldn’t find them either.

We’ve worn out several of the colorful clickers since Heidi started training; the first was in the shape of a circus lion, the second, a cricket. We’re hoping Heidi makes it to Hollywood before Moe’s secret stash runs out.

Photo of Moe DiSesso by Grove Pashley

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