W.C. Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals”. Then there is the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Well, I am here to let you know that neither of these adages can be further from the truth. How do I know? Because I have had the pleasure of providing theatrical canine actors to television, theatre and the modeling industry for 24 years. During that time, I supplied theatrical dogs to over 100 live stage productions (Annie, The Wizard of Oz…) as well as television shows such as All My Children, Bloopers & Practical Jokes. My dogs were featured in print with four-time Oscar nominee Marsha Mason and they appeared in multiple catalogues. I myself have been mentioned in Dog World Magazine, acknowledged in books on training and featured by famed animal trainer Captain Arthur Haggerty in his book How To Get Your Pet Into Show Business.
What makes my training unique is that each dog I trained was an adult rescue rather than a pedigree puppy. I had no previous history or knowledge of his or her backgrounds. By my taking the time, having patience as well as a sense of humor, these dogs proved enthusiastic and willing to please. They took overwhelming joy in the time and attention they were receiving—which, for many, was the first time they actually received any such special attention. Each dog was unique and each came with his or her individual issues. For example, “Duffy” reacted negatively to men with beards. “Bundles” showed fear if you raised your arm in the air (obviously a reaction to abuse). By paying attention and allowing the animal to tell me what motivates and what bothers him or her, I was able to address their issues and successfully take these “discarded” dogs and turn them into stars. I was the dog listener rather than the dog whisperer. How fulfilling it was to see these dogs, often bypassed on adoption day, now being photographed and at the center of attention. Audiences gathered to greet these wonderful canines and have their picture taken with them. How proud I was when Sandy or Toto made their entrances to “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and received thunderous applause at curtain call. What a wonderful feeling it was to be able to see these adopted friends appear on my television screen. I had to get used to people showing more interest in meeting my dogs than myself. That was ok with me though, for the dogs had earned it. How cool of a job I had! Not only were the dogs professional when working; they were also the greatest pets and companions at home. They received the best veterinary care, thanks to the Bernardsville Animal Hospital. For me, it was never a job. It was a privilege to spend so much time with my dogs. It allowed me to work with celebrities and form friendships with such noteworthy animal experts as my mentor, Captain Haggerty, and my longtime friend and Tony Award-winning animal trainer and author, William Berloni (the original trainer of Sandy on Broadway and my personal inspiration). I was able to become an advocate and ambassador for animal adoption.
Of course, working with dogs has its stressful moments; and after all, it’s not like you can reason with them all the time. There were occasionally times when things didn’t go according to plan. Like the time when the girl playing Annie tripped at the finale blackout before curtain calls and let go of Sandy who then left the stage following the only light he saw, which happened to be in the orchestra. But that’s show business! However, I can honestly say that I never remember a bad performance. As with children, I was proud of them no matter what. No matter how much the dogs performed, they were always my pets first and their safety and care was of utmost importance. As they aged, I was with them all the way and made sure they enjoyed their “retirement” years. Each dog holds a special place and memory in my heart.
I have since retired from the professional theatrical world, though I do get asked to consult from time to time. I am fortunate to have many videos and photos documenting my canine family’s body of work. However, my best memories stem from the ability I had to rescue and give these well-deserved dogs a happy and loving forever home. I strongly encourage anyone considering a pet to look at the shelters. These animals all have a story worth hearing, whenever available. It may not always be easy in the early chapters, but you can give Sandy or Toto a happily ever after ending.
As a post note, I currently have two rescues, Candi and Burrito, and neither performs. Both dogs had very hard past lives. Candi had been shot twice in her early life. Burrito was badly abused in his early life and had little hope of adoption. Today, however, both are living the good life of comfort with no worries of ever being hurt again. And though they aren’t performers, they are their own stars in my eyes. As they famously say in Annie, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, Bet Your Bottom Dollar That Tomorrow There’ll be Sun!”