A winsome Pit Bull lands a role on the Great White Way
When actors James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton take the stage in the Broadway adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at the Longacre Theater, they share it with a geriatric—though spirited—co-star. Resting comfortably on a quilted pillow for much of the show is Violet, a deaf, 14-year-old Pit Bull.
Because Violet, who plays ranch hand Candy’s (Jim Norton’s) dog, has a wandering eye and has become fast friends with fellow cast members, she is banned from the green room. Instead, she shares a dressing room with Lydia DesRoche, an NYC dog trainer—and the first female dog trainer on Broadway—who has successfully taught her when to walk onstage and where to sit for the seven minutes she appears during each performance.
“Violet’s task is to connect with Jim (Candy),” DesRoche says. Based on his dapper looks, DesRoche’s own 15-year-old Pit Bull, Blue, whom she rescued as a puppy from a junkyard in Harlem, was originally cast in the part. He was replaced by Violet, his understudy, one week later, when he repeatedly missed his cue to get up from the makeshift Depression-era pillow he was parked on for the show. (Offstage, Blue, now the understudy, and Violet occupy the same, large, pillowy bed. Even though there are two, they prefer to share.)
In the play, Candy’s dog is unnamed, but both he and his dog have outlived their usefulness on the ranch. “The other ranch hands lack sensitivity towards animals; the dog has no purpose and therefore, they want to shoot her,” says Norton, an Olivier and Tony award–winning Irish actor and dog lover who has raised his own Boxers in Ireland.
“Because Violet’s deaf, she always looks at you very intensely. Her deafness enhances her ability to concentrate, to pay attention,” he says. “We’ve done 23 shows, and as it comes to the moment when Joel [one of the ranch hands] takes her away from me, each time she looks at me more intensely. Dogs are so perceptive. They have qualities we don’t know about.”
A veteran stage actor, Norton admits to being more calm and “very relaxed when on [stage] with Violet. They [dogs] live in the moment. It’s interesting to observe how content they are to sit.”
Although Norton was raised with dogs in Dublin, he had never before acted with one. “Star quality is the ability to displace air,” he says. “Babies and animals are not aware of how attractive they are. They don’t try to get attention, so everybody’s drawn to them. Actors can learn a lot from Violet. She takes the spotlight because of her stillness. Everybody’s looking at her.”
Violet was given up by her owners to Brooklyn Animal Care and Control, one of the city’s kill shelters, in 2011. Then, her name was Cheyenne and she was about 10 years old. She was also emaciated, had an abscess on her neck (most likely the result of a dog bite) and her ears had been unevenly cropped close to her head. Despite that, she was sweet-tempered and became a favorite with the shelter staff.
“She had the most pleading eyes,” says Christy Allen, who had owned a Pit Bull before she adopted Violet. Allen, with her 10-pound Miniature Pinscher, Bella, in tow, took the subway from their home in Central Park West to the shelter in East New York. The next day, she brought Violet home. Allen and DesRoche are neighbors, and when Allen needed help with dog training, she called DesRoche.
I work as a vet in city shelters, and can testify that Violet’s adoption was nothing short of miraculous. Geriatric dogs in general are harder to place than younger, healthy ones, and dogs of any age surrendered by their owners do not require the same mandatory five-day hold in the shelter as strays. They can be euthanized to make space. However, dogs are kept longer if they endear themselves to the staff and are healthy. Violet’s flirtatious “eye,” sweet demeanor and sheer luck saved her life.
There is also, of course, the stigma that Pit Bulls carry. Nationwide, approximately 75 percent of all Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes who wind up in shelters are killed. Some cities and countries have Breed Specific Laws (BSL) that ban outright the ownership of Pit Bulls. Denver, Colo., is one of them; Ireland, Jim Norton’s home, is another. “They’re so gentle and so sweet,” he says. “It’s awful the way they’ve been abused and used as aggressive guard dogs. It’s a problem of our making.”
At every show, DesRoche is stage left. Violet’s deafness spares her the loud gunshot in each performance, but it also deprives her of the audience’s applause. The trainer continues to work with Blue in the event he’s needed as an understudy and, thanks to her positive reinforcement training methods, he’s now getting up on cue. “They never stop loving to learn,” she says, observing her ancient dog’s newly found youthful spirit.
Of Mice and Men is due to run through July 27, 2014. In between shows, Norton spends downtime with Violet, enjoying her company. “When the show’s over, I’ll miss her terribly.”
This is a touching story of a seizure-alert dog’s participation at a graduation ceremony at Idaho State University. This Pit Bull’s person, Joshua Kelly who was suffering from epilepsy recently completed his degree, but sadly had died in February. To honor his memory, Terrell Kelly, Joshua’s father, brought Cletus to walk the “stage” with him to pick up his son’s diploma, this gesture was met with cheers from all—a very moving moment indeed.
From rescue to model dog
When it came time to plan our cover for Bark’s summer issue, we didn’t need to look far and wide. The perfect model dog was sitting in our in-box. Back in March, Bark blogger Shirley Zindler shared her story of a remarkable little dog named Mr. Peebles whose will to live coupled with the love and care of an equally remarkable foster mom … was nearing a happy end. Mr. Peebles started life as an abandoned newborn—brought to a northern California shelter with serious head trauma that included a skull fracture and severe bit wounds. After several surgeries and months of devotion and TLC, he has made a full recovery and by all accounts is a happy, friendly puppy full of life. When we posted Mr. Peebles story, he received well-wishes from around the world. People were inspired by his will to survive, and the dedication shown by his foster mom. Mr. Peebles would make a wonderful cover dog.
At the end of March, we arranged a photo shoot with Mr. Peebles with the hopes of catching his spirit on camera. He was all that we could hope for … a normal, rambunctious 4-month-old puppy. He showed no signs of timidness or trepidation. He was a joyful model and wore us out! We got some great photos, and some delightful video. The clip above shows Mr. Peebles at “work”—greeting Natalia Martinez, and pouncing on Bill Parsons—Natalia and Bill are partners in Photo Lab Pet Photography, the dynamic duo who photographed our session. Mr. Peebles is still waiting for his forever home and the next chapter in this heartwarming story.
P.S. We’ve received several queries about the lovely collar Mr. Peebles is wearing on her cover photo — it’s from our friends at Aroo Studio.
Pet-friendly shelters can be lifesavers for victims
We caught an interesting story on the National Public Radio's Latino USA on Sunday … the report discussed the connection between domestic violence and pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NVADV) finds evidence that many women at risk of spousal abuse refuse to leave out of fear for their pets — studies show that between 18 and 48 percent of pet-owning women at domestic violence shelters had delayed their escape from their abusers because of their pets. Providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence that include accommodations for their pets can be key in these life or death decisions. The numbers are still small, but some shelters like New York City's Urban Resource Institute are beginning to open their doors to pets—first cats, and now dogs. Listen to how the bond between survivors and their pets is an important part of the healing process.
News: Guest Posts
As a young photographer working in San Francisco in 1994, I discovered that I absolutely loved photographing dogs. Around the same time I also discovered a very creative couple in Berkeley were starting up a dog magazine called The Bark. I shared some of my photographs with Claudia and Cameron, the editor and the publisher of The Bark, and told them that if they ever needed imagery for their magazine that they should call me. I also told them that I was interested in advertising my dog photography services in their new magazine. That was twenty years ago and they have been using my images and I have been advertising in their magazine pages ever since! My framed cover photographs for The Bark are some of my most treasured possessions from my career as a dog photographer.
Thousands of dogs and clients later, I have decided that I want to use my imagery in a new and unique way. In my mind the use of dog imagery on paper products is sorely lacking in creativity and beauty. My intention is to set a new standard for the quality of dog photography used on cards and gift items. I enlisted the help of my extremely talented sister, Melissa, who just happens to be a graphic designer, and using my vast database of twenty years of dog photography we have created The Dog Studio.
We are preparing to launch our card line this month with 48 greeting cards and 48 Dog Packs, sets of notecards featuring specific breeds, at the National Stationery Show in New York City.
We are also running a Kickstarter campaign to help the business get off the ground, and with just four days left we are at 75% of our goal! We have some great rewards for those who back The Dog Studio: portrait sessions, signed books & posters and of course lots of greeting cards. Check it out, it’s a fun Kickstarter campaign!
Our website: www.thedogstudio.com will be launched later this month as an ecommerce site but for now you can visit it and get more information about what we are doing. Keep an eye out for our new Dog Studio ad in The Bark coming soon...
— Amanda Jones, Bark contributor
"I believe in God the way my dog does" —Farley Mowat
Author Farley Mowat, chronicler of humanity’s relationship with nature, ardent environmental activist and dog lover, died at the age of 92. Mowat’s prolific writing ranged from the trailblazing Never Cry Wolf to People of the Deer and numerous children’s book. In Never Cry Wolf he recounts his experience studying Arctic wolves in 1946, living in a den close to them in the Keewatin Barren Lands in northern Manitoba. As The New York Times noted in their obituary:
He portrayed wolves as patient and gentle with their own, sometimes even fond of practical jokes. They adopted orphan puppies and babysat for other wolves’ pups. They never killed more than they could eat. In one passage he described the father of the wolf family, whom he named George: “His dignity was unassailable, yet he was by no means aloof. Conscientious to a fault, thoughtful of others, and affectionate within reasonable bounds, he was the kind of father whose idealized image appears in many wistful books of human family reminiscences.”
George, he added, was “the kind of father every son longs to acknowledge as his own.”
One of my favorite books of all times was his totally enjoyable, hilarious The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be a story of his boyhood on the Canadian prairies with a pair of owls for pets and a dog named Mutt who was an irrepressible playmate and fellow adventurer who could climb trees and road in the back seat of the family’s roadster wearing goggles. This is an unforgettable glimpse of country life in the 30’s where boys and their dogs roamed free. Many reviewers note that this is the most entertaining book they have ever read, I couldn’t agree with them more. Both of his classics, this book and Never Cry Wolf, are must reads for every dog lover. Even as recently as July, 2009, Nicholas D. Kristof, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, listed Mowat's The Dog who Wouldn't Be (first published in 1957) as one of the best children's books of all time.
Farley Mowat died only days away from his 93rd birthday, and was working on another book at the time of his death.
See a story in Bark about a young family's adventure to travel across Canada to meet with Farley Mowat.
I was looking up “notable” (dog lovers) birthdays today (May 6) because that seems to be a favorite newsy item, and I saw that this date celebrates the birth of both Sigmund Freud and George Clooney. I knew that Freud was a huge dog fan with a partiality towards Chows, so checked to see what I could find about Clooney’s affiliation with our favorite species. And lo and behold, I found that not only does he love dogs, as attested to from this Esquire interview (conducted by Tom Junod, another great dog lover, whose own wonderful story appears in our book, Dog Is My Co-Pilot) but he adopted a rescue Cocker Spaniel mix, from LA’s Camp Cocker named Einstein.
From the Esquire's Dec. 2013 interview:
A few years ago, however, he lost one of his dogs to a rattlesnake. He is a dog guy—a little sign about men and dogs adorns a living-room wall otherwise dominated by signed photographs of dignitaries—and he set about to get another, preferably hypoallergenic. He saw a black Cocker-Spaniel mix on the Web site of a rescue organization and called the number. The woman who answered said she’d be happy to bring the dog to his house, but then she explained that the dog had been abandoned and picked up malnourished off the street. “He has to love you,” she told George Clooney, “or else I have to take him back.”
At first, he found himself getting nervous—“freaking out.” What if the dog didn’t love him? Then he responded. “I had some turkey bacon in the refrigerator,” he says. “I rubbed it on me. I’m not kidding. When she came over, the dog went crazy. He was all over me. The woman said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s never like this. He loves you.’ ”
As for Freud we published a great piece about him back in 2002, but here is a memorable quote from him:
"Dogs provide affection without ambivalence, the simplicity of a life free from the almost unbearable conflicts of civilization, the beauty of an existence complete in itself."
For a video of Einstein’s story see here .
For a People article on Einstein/Clooney see here.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Therapy dogs attend marathon festivities
After the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, therapy dogs from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries were there within 24 hours. The group consists of 70 therapy dogs (all Golden Retrievers) from 10 states. Small groups of the dogs visit churches, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, offering the soothing, healing presence that only dogs can provide. Many survivors and first responders in Boston benefited from spending time with these highly trained and lovable dogs.
This year at the Boston Marathon and associated events, four dogs from this group will again be in attendance. Ruthie, Hannah, Luther and Rufus have traveled from Illinois to offer support and lots of opportunities for petting and loving. They are making appearances throughout the four days of events that conclude with the race on Monday, April 21, 2014. It’s the fourth visit of “Comfort Dogs” to the area since the events at last year’s race.
Every year, runners and fans of the sport watch the Boston Marathon. This year the audience is bigger because the whole world is watching. I’m so glad that these therapy dogs are a part of the celebration and that they have been part of the healing all year. They are contributing to making Boston strong.
The Little Miracles of Social Media
At its best, social media can spark connections one only dreams about. Such was the case involving a series of photographs we posted recently on Facebook. Last week we blogged a new series of photos by Bark contributor Grace Chon, showing her 10-month-old son Jasper and 7-year-old dog Zoey in matching apparel. The photos are adorable and our followers agreed, “liking” and sharing the pix with tens, then hundreds of thousands of people. Zoey and Jasper had gone viral—appearing on HuffingtonPost, Mashable, BuzzFeed and Good Morning America to name but a few. As the images brought smiles to viewers around the world, one woman far away in China thought Zoey looked familiar. It was a woman named Joy who had fostered little Zoey in the first months of the pup’s life in Taiwan. She had been waiting 7 years to hear news of the little puppy she nursed back to health before sending her halfway around the world to a new home in California. All she knew was that a Korean girl in Los Angeles had adopted her. Following her intuition, Joy reached out to Grace, and piecing the puzzle together, they concluded that Zoey was indeed the little pup she had fostered. The two women shared photos of Zoey— of her early life in Taiwan, including her first night with Joy—and Grace’s photos of life in Southern California. Each had wondered about the portions of Zoey’s life they had missed, and are grateful for this serendipitous reunion. Deep down inside, they both knew that this little black dog was loved and well cared for—in both Taiwan and in Los Angeles. Now they have the stories and pictures to prove it. Read more about their reunion.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Butler will be easing people's pain
With weather extremes making headlines more than ever, it’s nice to know that The Weather Channel does more than just predict and report disasters. With their recent choice of a therapy dog to help those who are in the midst of crises, they are helping to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
After a nationwide search for just the right dog, Butler has become The Weather Channel’s official therapy dog. He was adopted from the Humane Society of Charlotte in North Carolina by Amy McCullough. McCullough is the National Directed of Animal-Assisted Therapy at the American Humane Association, as well as Butler’s handler and trainer.
Many dogs across the nation in various shelters were considered. Butler, a 35-pound, 18-month old Shepherd mix. was chosen because he has the traits of a perfect therapy dog. He is affectionate, social, friendly, attentive, easy to train and well-mannered. He likes to sit in laps and is comfortable in crowds.
Once Butler has completed his training, he and McCullough will visit schools, hospitals, shelters and other locations to help ease the pain of people who have survived disasters.
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