Interview with Bonnie-Jill Laflin
Bonnie-Jill is probably best known for her modelling and work in television and radio as a sportscaster. She was the first female player scout in the NBA and has used her media profile to help better the lives of animals around the world campaigning for their rights.
Kim O'Meara caught up with Bonnie-Jill at her parents ranch to find out more about Hounds and Heroes, the not-for-profit organisation she founded five years ago, and her very own hero, Asur.
Tell us about your dogs - we'd like to know everything about them!
Let's start with Diamond, she's my first child and I adopted her from the SPCA when she was seven months old. She was in rescue after she was found running around the streets of downtown LA. She's now 10 years old and she's a Chihuahua cross Boston Terrier who likes to be the main focus at all times! (Laugh) I call her Jenny from the block, use to have a little now she has a lot (fans of Jennifer Lopez will know what I'm talking about). She's the alpha dog with a personality to match.
Next is my Pug cross French Bulldog, Wilt Chamberlain. I rescued him when he was one year old from a high kill shelter, he was going to be euthanized that night (sighes). He is a lover and always follows his big sister's lead at all times, which shows he's a pretty smart dog. He's always making some kind of noise and snores louder than a man. (Laughs) He has the cutest smushy face.
Photography by David Parker
Last but not least is my six year old German Shepherd, who's a former MWD (Military Working Dog) Asur, formerly Cpl Asur. He was a bomb sniffing dog in the USMC (Marines) and became completely blind during his deployment in Afghanistan. His handler didn't want him so I came to the rescue, literally. Because of my trusted relationship and work with the military through Hounds and Heroes, I was the best fit for him, otherwise his future would have been non existent.
We're meeting the gorgeous Asur with you today. He has a huge fan base online, what is it that makes him so special and connects with so many do you think?
Who doesn't respect a war hero, whether two legged or four legged. He saved many Marines lives, and it cost him his sight. Besides being a beautiful dog, people recognize what he did for our country and I think are drawn to his story.
He's now enjoying retirement and everyone is so happy that he's having a good life after what he's been through.
It must have been wonderful to see his personality change and grow as he settled in and got to understand what life was all about after his military career?
We weren't sure how he would adjust to the dark world while also leaving the Marines, it was a big change for him. Everything was new to him, his surroundings, the location, the people, weather...just everything! The people at Purina in the States saw Asur's pictures and story on my social media and contacted me.
They stepped in to help Asur adjust to his new civilian life. They came to the ranch for three solid days to help with just about everything anyone could think of. They came with a lot of gifts that Asur actually unwrapped himself! It was absolutely adorable how excited he was along with everyone else!
They brought a Purina dog trainer/behaviour specialist, Melissa Heeter, who addressed all of our concerns. She introduced different methods that would help Asur get used to the pattern of the house and walk on the lead - everything. With patience and just being with him, there was a definite bond growing.
I would hope more people would want to adopt special needs dogs, especially blind dogs, who need a special owner who will take the time, be patient and give unconditional love. There is a lot of information out there to help owners. Its a rewarding experience, I can say that from personal experience now.
Five years ago you founded Hounds and Heroes, a not-for-profit organisation which helps by rescuing dogs in need and training them before rehoming with veterans and first responders. Tell us a little more about the work you do and what led you down this path.
I wanted to combine both of my passions, which is animal welfare and our military, including our first responders and that's where I came up with the name Hounds and Heroes (www.houndsandheroes.com).
Coming from a military family I've always supported our veterans and troops. I've done 18 USO/Good will Tours visiting and entertaining our military all over the world including Iraq and Afghanistan. It's very important for me to visit our wounded in the hospital and do whatever I came for our heroes and I've always been an animal lover and now I'd say I'm also an animal activist/advocate.
I like to be the voice for the voiceless whether its at Capitol Hill, shooting a documentary or print campaign, being at a demonstration or protest, promoting going vegetarian, or getting a petition out on social media I'm always working to help the needs of ALL animals.
My charity does it all when it comes to military and animals but the one mission we are working on now is rescuing dogs from shelters, training, and then pairing them up with veterans that need dogs to cope with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), TBI (traumatic brain injury) or anything else. With the veteran suicide rate at its highest we are helping to save two lives, a veteran and a dog that would be killed at the shelter. We all know how therapeutic dogs are!
Before Hounds and Heroes you were breaking ground in the US NBA league as the only woman player scout. There's a lot of talk about gender equality in the media nowadays, so how do you feel about going down in history for your work as a scout with the LA Lakers?
Any time you're a woman working in a 'man's' world it's always tough with struggles along the way. You are always under a microscope and having to prove people wrong but that's what drives me and makes me work even harder. Having the determination, ambition and passion has helped in my 'never give up' attitude.
I believe work ethic, knowledge and credibility is the most important part of my job and transcends throughout my entire career but my integrity, grit and 'thick skinned' resilient nature has made me successful and always wanting to achieve more. At the end of the day,I'm one the guys and have been blessed to work in sports. I always tell young girls you can do anything you put your mind to!
You had a really interesting path in getting to that point though, tell us about your journey? Did you always know you wanted to be involved in sports?
I would say I have a lot of layers to who I am! I'm quite the tomboy then also a girly girl.I was a child model, pageant girl and ballerina with SF Ballet Company but then a real cowgirl as a barrel racer and also a softball player all mixed into one.
As an adult I started my career as a cheerleader in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors while still in high school, then I moved on to the San Francisco 49ers where I won a Super Bowl ring. After that I moved to America's Sweethearts the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
After getting my degree from University of Texas in broadcast journalism I worked as a correspondent for ESPN then to the Los Angeles CBS affiliate. Continuing to model with magazines like Maxim, GQ and Esquire, I worked on international print campaigns and was named in Maxim’s Hot 100 list. (Maxim, FHM, GQ, Esquire,named to Maxim Hot 100 list, catalogs, international print campaigns)/ At the same time I started acting and appeared in Baywatch and Ally McBeal as well as some cool music videos. I did say I liked to be busy, right? (laughs)
Then, while covering the Lakers for the TV network I was asked to work in the front office as an executive and this move would lead me to to be the first and only female scout in the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers. Overall I won five championship rings with team. I guess you could say the rest is history.
Do you have a motto that you live your life by? What would you say your dogs mottos might be?
I do actually, mine would be 'Don't Dream It, Be It'. I think Diamond's is easy, it would be 'Doesn't play well with others' (laughs).
Wilt Chamberlain is a funny little guy, his would have to be 'Wake me when dinner is ready ' and finally, my boy Asur, his would definitely be 'The Few, the Proud, The Marines.
If Asur, Diamond and Wilt Chamberlain were sports stars, who do you think they'd be and why?
(Laughs) This is fun, well I would have to say Asur would be David Robinson aka 'The Admiral'.
David was an NBA Hall of Fame because he served in the US Navy putting his country before his basketball career, he's among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and a two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, but most importantly the class he exuded off and off the court was clear for all to see. I guess it doesn't hurt that he's one of my favorite players (laughs). Asur has the same attributes, plus they're both good looking gentlemen.
Diamond would be Mia Hamm I think. The soccer star reminds me of Diamond because she's a tomboy, a leader and very goal oriented. Plus she can keep up with the boys.
I think Wilt Chamberlain would be Hall of Fame Running Back, Emmitt Smith from the Dallas Cowboys. He is much like my Wilt because he's strong, fast and determined. He's an all around good guy and a team player that everyone loves. If Wilt played football he would definitely be the all time rushing leader (laughs).
If you were to swap roles with any of your dogs for a day, who would you choose to swap with firstly, and how you think they'd cope being you and what would you love most about being them?
I would swap roles with Asur for a day to see how what he deals with everyday living in the dark. It would make me more thankful for my blessings and appreciate his positivity and good nature considering.
If Asur was me I think he would be saying 'my mama is crazzzzzy' (laughs).
For this question, we ask our celebs to match up the following people’s personality to a breed of dog, for example, Winston Churchill = Bulldog or Jennifer Lopez = Afghan Hound etc. If the following celebrities and dog lovers were breeds of dogs, based on their personalities alone, what type of breed do you think they'd be and why...
Hugh Jackman – I think he'd be a Greyhound. He has the sharp features, is always fit and he's athletic like the Greyhound.
Kate Upton – I think she'd be a Shar Pei because everyone loves a cuddly Shar Pei!
Wilt Chamberlain – Will would be a Great Dane. Both of their statures are majestic and they have a nice lean body. Everyone knows a Great Dane is charismatic and in a league of their own.
Caroline Wozniacki – I think she's a natural beauty like a Sheltie! Athletic while maintaining poise and grace.
Bonnie-Jill, here are our quick fire questions, are you ready?
Which do you prefer and why?
Big dogs or little dogs – As my small pups are staring and reading this I would still have to say big dogs because of their big hugs and kisses.
Pedigree dogs or cross-breeds – Always mutts, because I always root for the underdog!
Days off or days at work – I'm a workaholic and you only live once.
Describe the last time you laughed out loud because of something you saw one of your dogs, or another dog do.
(Laughs) Wilt Chamberlain sleeps so awkward and unbalanced that it ends with him flipping over and the look on his face is priceless, but then he goes back to sleep.
What do you like to do in your down time?
My downtime actually goes back to my charity work including volunteering at animals shelters like Best Friends Animal Society, for those that aren't as lucky as my pups. I also help at Farm Sanctuary with their rescued farm animals and spend time riding my horses. If I'm not with animals, I'll either be watching or at a sporting event.
Let us in on some of the secrets of your life. What five items do you never leave home without?
I never leave home without my cell phone, wallet, lip gloss, sunglasses and a lint roller (laughs). Every dog or cat owner knows what I'm talking about!
If you were putting together an all-star NBA team and could invite anyone from any era, past or present, who would you invite and why?
Oh good question! I'd have to choose Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Rick Barry, and of course Wilt Chamberlain, with Dominique Wilkins as my 6th man.
Bill Sharman would be the coach and Jerry Buss as the owner. This is my perfect team situation. Not only are most of these dear friends but they were the best of the best!! Some are now my guardian angels.
What is your current favourite…?
TV show – I love 'American Horror Story'.
Album –I'm a huge country music fan, so without a doubt everything George Strait.
Film – It has to be the 'Wizard of Oz'.
If you had to choose just one, what product would you say has most changed your life do you think (and why)?
Honestly I would have to say positive social media.. It helps with my charity, finding animals homes, promoting my projects. and my other passions - sports, supporting our troops and animal welfare.
Tell us something no one else knows about you.
This is gonna sound weird, but since I was a child I've always been obsessed with characters at amusement parks. To the point where I'm knocking kids over to get a picture (laughs). I guess I never grew out of it.
Right now my obsession lies with Minions. Anyone who can get me a real one..please send asap!
Bonnie-Jill, alongside Asur and her dad, Ross
If you could sum it up, what do you think is the best thing about being a dog owner?
I always thought it was strange when you go to a home and there's no animals to greet you, not even a goldfish! A home is not a home unless you share it with a loving critter. There's a reason a dog is called man's best friend, they truly are. Unconditional love, there is nothing better than that!
Finish the following sentence, my dogs are...part of my family, they are my kids!
And finally, this is always a tough question and often requires a fair degree of thinking time but….if Asur, Diamond and Wilt Chamberlain had the ability to speak and you could ask them one question and one question only, what would you ask them and what do you think that they'd say?
I would ask Diamond what she remembers of her life before and what life on the streets was like. I'd be kind of scared to hear what she'd say but I think she'd say 'since I have "street smarts" I can handle any situation that comes up, even though I'm little.'
I would ask Wilt how he felt knowing he was on death row and I think he would say 'I was so scared mom and I prayed for you to come along.'
Finally I would ask Asur what were his fondest memories from his time in the Marine Corps. I think he would say 'I was so proud to be a bomb dog and just so honoured to be a Marine serving my country.'
Many Thanks Bonnie-Jill!
Bonnie-Jill was speaking with Kim O'Meara