There are some affords you possibly can’t refuse. Such was the case when dog trainer Warren Eckstein obtained a name from a man named Walter searching for some assist together with his boss’s hound.
Turns out, Walter had fairly the boss: Eckstein was being summoned to the Nassau Shores, Massapequa, dwelling of mob boss Carlo Gambino.
That was round 1972, when Eckstein, who was 22 at the time, had a cheeky advert in a Five Towns, Long Island, pennysaver. It promised, “For $15, I’ll teach your dog Yiddish.”
Gambino was merely aiming for obedience. Eckstein obliged. “They had no problem with my price but they did have a problem with my standard contract,” Eckstein, now 72, instructed The Post. “I used to be instructed, ‘No contract. Just do your job and you’ll receives a commission.’ “
Gambino was aged — he died 4 years later — “and I had to train the dog to not drag people when they walked him,” stated Eckstein, who now hosts “The Pet Show” on Radio America, the place he offers recommendation to pet house owners. “Once I knew it was Gambino’s dog, I made sure he was as well trained as Rin Tin Tin.”
Pleased with Eckstein’s work – Walter as soon as slipped the trainer an additional $500 so he might purchase a eating room set that he and his newlywed spouse desired – the mob boss apparently instructed cohorts that Eckstein was good, dependable and discreet. “This was a time when mobsters all used the same attorney, doctor and accountant,” stated Eckstein, who rapidly turned the gang’s go-to trainer.
“One thing I learned, though, was that some of these guys hated to part with cash. They offered to pay me in cocaine, but I asked them to please stick with money.”
A couple of weeks after Eckstein had efficiently educated Gambino’s dog, one other mobster reached out. “That was Angelo Ruggiero, who was bosom buddies with Gotti,” remembered Eckstein. “He had either a Rottweiler or Doberman and he wanted the dog trained for protection. It turned out that Ruggiero was dealing drugs at a time when people in the mob were not supposed to be doing that. I assume that he wanted the dog to protect his family members from fellow mobsters. I showed up, his teenage son took me into the garage and handed me $1,500.”
There have been events when Eckstein noticed issues he wished he hadn’t. “Sometimes the guys had guns on their tables,” he stated. “And when I went to Henry Hill’s house in Rockville Center, there was a money-counting machine clicking through a pile of cash.”
Then there was the mob enforcer who handled his spouse worse than he handled his pooch. “He got angry after hearing me suggesting to his wife that she should follow my advice in terms of training the dog between visits,” Eckstein stated. “He told her to go to her room and she listened. I didn’t like that behavior but I didn’t say a word. Sometimes you instinctively have to shut up.”
Other occasions, he was the goal of intimidation.
“I worked with the Rottweiler that belonged to Philly Basile,” stated Eckstein. “I remember one of his associates calling me and saying, ‘The dog peed in the house. It’s not worth killing you over. But can you come by right away and work with him?’ I did, and I helped to resolve the problem by putting the dog on a schedule and confining him to a small area in the kitchen. He never peed indoors again. Maybe that’s why I’m talking to you now.”
At least one among his hotshot purchasers, nevertheless, didn’t fare as nicely in the life-or-death sport. “He and his brother were paying me to train a little Doberman puppy called Phoenix,” stated Eckstein. “I was boarding him and got money orders for a couple of months. Then the money orders stopped coming and the guy disappeared. I assume he was killed or went into witness protection. I kept Phoenix.”
After some 20 years of coaching canine related to some two dozen mobsters, that nook of Eckstein’s business dried up – “Half of them were dead or in jail by the early ‘90s” – and Eckstein moved to Los Angeles, the place he labored with pets belonging to the likes of Lily Tomlin (who stated her dog had a number of personalities), Al Pacino and David Letterman.
But he’ll always remember his time spent with the canines of criminals.
“They were gentle with their animals,” he stated. “Most of the time, the dogs were more alarm dogs than attack dogs. The mobsters knew how to resolve problems on their own. Like maybe they’d want to take a guy for a ride. I couldn’t train a dog to do that.”