Meet Sam Simon, The Dog Nut

Morley Safer Meets One Of The Unusual Co-Creators Of The Simpsons

This segment was originally broadcast on March 4, 2007. It was updated on July 15, 2007.

This story is a goofy stew of big money, abandoned dogs, professional boxing, fine art, poker, and America's favorite dysfunctional family, the Simpsons. Those various elements are embodied in the personality of a 52-year-old Californian named Sam Simon, a veteran television producer who is perhaps the Renaissance man of the baffling, uncertain age we live in.

As correspondent Morley Safer reports, Simon is a man of many and diverse passions, but mostly a self-confessed dog nut.

"I used to deny that I was a dog nut and people would ask me, 'Well, what is a dog nut?' And I would say, 'Well, to me the line was when you start dressing up your dogs.' And then I had to qualify that I don't do that except on, you know, Halloween or special occasions," Simon tells Safer.

Sam Simon's Halloween costume party for dogs is something to bark about. There's Harvey, his gigantic Irish wolfhound, and Casey, 16, deaf as a stone and of dubious provenance. Sam got Casey from an old girlfriend's pot dealer. For his guests, Sam organized dog games and prizes for the best costume. Remember, this is Hollywood.

And Simon is not just any dog nut. This one runs the grandest dog shelter in the country, a five star, six acre spread in Malibu, perhaps the most desirable real estate on the planet. Here, among the waterfalls and the manicured grounds, the Sam Simon Foundation gives stray and abandoned dogs a new lease on life, literally.

"We rescue dogs and we train them to be service dogs, which helps people with disabilities," he explains.

The dogs all come from southern California animal shelters, where many of them would otherwise be put down, a euphemism for killed. A fate that the ASPCA says befalls as many as nine million lost and unwanted dogs and cats each year in this country.

On one day at the pound, Barb Velasquez, Sam's chief dog trainer, was scouting for a lucky candidate or two. It's a tough job. "The hardest part of all this is looking at a dog that you know is not at all suitable for our program. And just having to walk away," she admits.

A potential trainee can't be too big, too shy or too aggressive. One stray finally made the cut during her visit. She's quickly given a new name – Amber – and a ticket out, to Sam's dog paradise in Malibu.

There, Amber and the others go through six months of training as companions for deaf people, alerting them that the phone is ringing, the doorbell, and the smoke alarm. There's a staff of trainers and vets; some of them live at the shelter full time.

The vets also travel around Los Angeles in Sam's spay and neuter-mobile, so people in low-income neighborhoods can get their pets fixed for free. The mobile is a state-of-the-art operating room on wheels, snipping away at 30 dogs a day.

Add in the visits the dogs make to lonely seniors, and it's quite an empire. The Sam Simon Foundation does not accept donations; he foots the entire bill.

Simon doesn't even know how much these programs cost him every year, except that it's in the millions of dollars. "It's well spent just for the pleasure it gives me, honestly," he says.

  • Daniel Schorn

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