By Kathy Day
Some men might not like the idea of learning about manners and grooming from a dog, but in the case of Gentleman Norman they might change their minds.
The tiny, not-so-poofy Pomeranian tackles those subjects and much more, including a tipsheet on “how to stay out of the doghouse,” in owner Laura Martella’s first book, “Gentleman Norman: How to be a Man.”
Even Martella’s husband Michael, who owns MARCOA, a 44-year-old publishing company that works with the military, found humor in the colorful, lovingly crafted book that’s fit for a coffee table.
“It relieves me when I see men cracking up when they look at it,” said the nine-year Rancho Santa Fe resident who came up with the idea for the book, in part, as a tribute to her mother, who died in 2011 of Alzheimer’s disease, and to her father, a World War II veteran.
As she sat in the lobby at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe talking about the process of writing the book and the loss of her parents, her tiny sidekick, Norman, sat calmly for nearly an hour. He glanced upward as staff members greeted him and guests asked about him and sat proudly atop the grand piano as his photo was taken.
Martella got Norman, now 12, after she had to put down her Walter, also a Pomeranian, 11 years ago. Living in Oklahoma City at the time, she called a local breeder, Pufride Pomeranians, and asked the owner if she had any puppies.
She didn’t, but she did have one “too spoiled to be a show dog” who didn’t get enough attention in the ring, Martella said. The breeder was so cautious about the adoption that she visited Martella’s home before agreeing to the sale.
The pair have been together ever since, and Norman helped her through not just her parents’ deaths, but also a tough divorce and, more recently, has joined in on her happy marriage.
“[Norman’s]the perfect man,” she said. “He does anything I want him to do.”
She was quick to note that her husband is also the perfect man, “an old school, true gentleman” who is not threatened by the closely cropped canine.
She laughed, recalling moments during the eight-hour photo shoot around San Francisco – a regular getaway for the Martellas and Norman — when her well-mannered pup decided to do his own thing.
With San Diego photographer John Reidy — their couple’s wedding and family photographer — on hand in places like the Fairmont Hotel and Gump’s, he would plop down on the registration desk or look aside when they wanted him focused on the lens. To get Norman’s attention, they would tempt Norman with his favorite treats.
“It was very funny seeing grown men yelling ‘yip yap’ or ‘banana,’” Martella said.
At Gump’s, the luxury retailer in the heart of San Francisco, they set the dog in a window display and “people on the street went crazy,” she added.
One staffer at The Inn greeted the pair last week and, as he looked over the book, he noted that Martella who strikes model-like poses — not because she has modeled before but because of her knowledge from her career as a fashion coordinator — never shows her face.
That was a conscious decision, she said, since the focus was on Norman.
And, the staffer named Harry added, “It helps with perspective to show how tiny he is.”
Most of the photos are just the closely cropped Norman, one in a pink polo shirt, another sitting at the head of a conference table. They are accompanied by one or two lines of pithy advice, like an inquisitive Norman sitting on a hotel bed flanked by a remote control: “Do You Really Need Breaking News?” Some feature his 6-year-old brother Howard, who was too big for showing and has crooked teeth. Howard just might turn out to be the subject of a second book, Martella said.
Perhaps the most touching pictures are those of Norman with World War II vet Ralph Morgon, a resident of Sunrise La Costa, an assisted living facility that offers Alzheimer’s care. Today he lives in the room where Martella’s dad, Richard Lawrence Zweig, resided after he and his wife, Patricia Stafford Zweig, moved west to be near their daughter.
One photo with the U.S. flag behind Morgon who has Norman in his arms perfectly captures the tribute to her dad and other veterans.
Zwieg and his wife had lived for years on St. Simons Island, Ga., until he could no longer care for her. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 65, Mrs. Zwieg was lovingly cared for by her husband and daughter, who visited as often as she could to pitch in and called daily to check on her parents.
“It slowly robs you of everything,” Martella said. “My mother, if ever there was a vivacious woman, lived life to the fullest.”
Her husband was 20 years older, and she figured her mom would be caring for him, but instead “he took beautiful care of my mother … It was his spiritual quest.”
An only child who often entertained herself by writing, she said, “My parents were sure I would be an author — not just of one liners.”
Today those one-liners and the charming Norman are helping to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association San Diego/Imperial Chapter, and Martella and Norman are learning what it’s like to be in the spotlight, with recent book signings at Neiman Marcus and the Del Mar Art Center, and 3,000 Facebook friends. Future signings are planned at Sunrise La Costa, Gump’s San Francisco and St. Simons Island, Ga.
You can see Norman during the photo shoot at
“Gentleman Norman: How to be a Man”
By Laura Martella, Photography by John Riedy
Also available at Tucci Boutique in Solana Beach; Bon Bon Home Garden in Solana Beach; and Matti D in Del Mar.