Some Westminster show dogs are show-business dogs, too
NEW YORK (AP) — They’re show dogs with star power.
Sprinkled through the more than 2,800 dogs competing at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club show are furry faces that viewers might have glimpsed in movies and TV shows, stage productions, magazine pages and ads for everything from phone services to pharmaceuticals.
Magneto, for instance, is a strapping, 180-pound looker billed to play opposite his fellow Leonbergers at Westminster on Tuesday. He’s a grand champion in the show world, has appeared in theatrical productions including “Annie” and “Peter Pan” and has strutted in a fashion show.
His Leonberger housemates also have stage and screen credits. Two of them, including former Westminster competitor Mr. America, appeared alongside Denzel Washington and Bill Pullman in the 2014 action movie “The Equalizer.”
As canine performers, “sometimes, they blow me away,” owner Morgan Avila says.
Equally at home in show business and the show ring, some Westminster dogs have racked up resumes many a human actor might covet. Just a sampling from the reels of Christina and Taylor Potter’s four dogs, which competed Saturday in agility:
Hudson the golden retriever barked along with “Live from New York, it’s ... !” as then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s dog on “SNL” in 2012 and added to the comic relief in the 2011 Paul Rudd film “Our Idiot Brother.”
Morgan, a Chinese crested, served as a design inspiration on a 2006 “Project Runway” episode. Chester, a berger Picard, has lent his shaggy brio to commercials for MasterCard, Verizon, Conair and QVC.
“We thought it would be something just fun to do, and then it turned into a second job,” Christina Potter laughs.
But it’s worth it: “Any training you do with your dog is bonding,” says Potter, a federal court interpreter who lives in North Bergen, New Jersey; her husband is an airline pilot. And when the dogs perform like stars, “you feel proud of them.”
Dogs have long played a part in the entertainment industry, though it’s been scrutinized recently after video leaked of a frightened German shepherd being forced into churning water during the filming of the movie “A Dog’s Purpose.”
American Humane, the group responsible for animal safety on the set, says an animal cruelty expert found the video was misleadingly edited and the dog suffered no lasting stress or harm. The entertainment-industry-sanctioned organization acknowledged the handling should have been gentler in one scene, however, and suspended the safety representative who was on set.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which called the findings incomplete, urges filmmakers to computer-generate animals (PETA also has protested Westminster because of its emphasis on purebred dogs). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opposes using animals in entertainment involving “any distressing or inhumane practices.”
Owners of Westminster’s show-biz dogs, who often train and handle their own pets for entertainment work, emphasize that they make sure the animals are safe and comfortable with what’s asked of them.
Shoots have been a breeze for Ten, a border collie that competed Monday in Westminster’s obedience championship, owner Lara Avery says.
As soon as Ten sees a set, he’s “under the lamps, ready to go — because he knows he’s going to get cookies,” says Avery, a professional dog trainer in Somers, Connecticut. Ten has been in an episode of the TV Land comedy “Younger” and on the cover of Scientific American Mind magazine, among other things.
The Westminster best in show competition began Monday, with the winner to be chosen Tuesday night.
Avila starts getting her puppies used to theatrical sights and sounds by putting capes on them, donning costumes herself and taking them to a local church’s stage to experience the lights. Readying for a play takes about two weeks of nightly rehearsals, and Avila watches and signals from the wings throughout every performance.
“You can’t just show up and think your dog is going to be the next Lassie,” says Avila, an elevator company compliance officer who lives in Lynbrook, New York. “The training is really intense, and when it all falls into place, it’s really exciting, and it’s really fun.”
Not that there are never bloopers: a dog grabbing and snacking on an accidentally dropped apple on stage, for instance, or plunging into water after a casually tossed rock during a beach shoot.
A dog can make $800 to $1,200 for a day of filming, owners say, but the work tends to be sporadic.
Owners say the money isn’t the point. Nor are credits on the screen or plaudits in the show ring.
Rhonda-Lynn DiMatteo’s puli Ethan has plenty of both. He won best of his corded-coat breed at Westminster in 2015, and he’s done a fashion magazine shoot, local theatrical productions and even a children’s birthday party near their home in Easton, Pennsylvania.
“But that’s all secondary,” she says, “to the companionship he’s given me.”