One indicator that your life may be a bit dull is when your dog has more activities than you do. Oscar, a lovable golden retriever about whom I’ve written before, isn’t even my dog. Actually that admission reminds me of a scene from the “Pink Panther.”

Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is in a rundown European inn and notices a cute dog in the corner. He asks the disinterested concierge clerk, “Does your dog bite?” When the man says “No,” Clouseau proceeds to playfully pet the pooch but is bitten viciously! “I thought you said your dog does not bite?” Clouseau asks indignantly. The concierge answers nonchalantly, “That is not my dog.”

Oscar, a seizure alert dog, belongs to Colleen Hughes, a disabled neighbor. Colleen and he frequently visit the Ronald McDonald House so that kids with life-threatening illnesses can pet Oscar. The two also attend monthly Santa Monica Emergency Volunteer Airlift Command meetings (EVAC) and, every Wednesday go to America Reads, a Santa Monica Police Activities League after-school program for “at risk” kids.

At PAL, the kids read books to Oscar to improve their reading skills. As Police Chief Tim Jackman points out so accurately, “If you can’t read, you can’t succeed.” Oscar, meanwhile, is becoming quite the literary buff.

A few years ago I wrote a column about America Reads, including a photo of Oscar on a chair, between two adoring kids. Oscar appears to be listening intently and who’s to say he’s not. Deep in thought, he looks like the late Alistair Cooke, that is, if Cooke had been a golden retriever.

On July 29, America Reads had an event at PAINT:LAB, a walk-in art studio at 2912 Main St. (Their logo is “Experience, express, explore your creativity through the medium of paint.”) PAINT:LAB provides their customers with an inspiring space, appropriate lighting, the easel, paint and brushes. All the customer has to do is purchase his canvas and let his creative spirit fly.

To introduce the PAL kids to art, Colleen discussed the idea with Oana Bogdan, the founder of PAINT:LAB. Oana’s an accomplished artist whose had a successful, 16-year career in art direction and set design in TV and the movies. It was an easy sell because PAINT:LAB wants to bring art to children in as many neighborhoods as possible, especially from minority and less fortunate areas.

Next, Colleen, along with speech pathologist and co-volunteer Joan Colman, and her therapy dog, Randi, approached America Reads. After getting the parents’ written permission, eight very excited kids showed up at the PAINT:LAB along with their buddy Oscar, who apparently didn’t need written permission.

Teaching the kids was Toro Assil, a PAINT:LAB art instructor. The budding Pablo Picasso’s or Georgia O’Keefe’s included: Nathan Lam, Nadia Cyprian, Naje Cyprian, Jilian Archer, Kaitlyn Marcial, Keirra Marcial, Gus Gress, and Ryan Hinton. Remarkably, by the end of the day, each child had a finished canvass to take home to their parents. (And almost as remarkable, Oscar was virtually paint-free.)

Judging from the smiles on the kids’ faces, I’d say the afternoon was a huge success. No one was more pleased than Chief Jackman, and Eula Fritz, the PAL director, both of whom know how positive experiences can affect a child’s self-esteem. To learn more about PAINT:LAB go to:

Meanwhile, Oscar has big plans for the rest of summer, including the Twilight Dance Series at the Santa Monica Pier, Dodger Stadium (on Aug. 20 v. the Cubs) and the Hollywood Bowl (on Aug. 25 for Yo-Yo Ma.). Personally, I have nothing planned for the rest of the summer. Unless, of course, Oscar lets me tag along.

Jack Neworth can be reached at

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