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Star Casting: Getting your pup movie ready
Jake Cherry, the young actor, and Tiger hit it  off immediately
Jake Cherry, the young actor, and Tiger hit it off immediately

The men nodded profoundly. “Great! OK — thanks.”

Dan walked me out, back down the corridor to the crowd. As we walked, he told me that they would need several pictures of Tiger, and confirmed my availability.

Two days later, we got The Call. That’s when things got real interesting.

I recalled the name of the movie and looked it up on IMDB, the movie database. There was a list of actors already committed to the movie: Al Pacino, Ray Liotta, Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes … I began to get very excited.

“Are you sure that’s the film?” Nancy asked. “We were told it’s a small film.”

“I met a guy named Dito. How many directors do you know of named Dito?”

I started training Tiger to pull on a pair of pants. Since that is a behavior not generally sought by the average dog owner — most people want to train a dog not to pull on pants — I pulled out Captain Haggerty’s How to Teach Your Dog to Talk. Captain Haggerty was, for many years, the trainer for dogs in movies. He recommended using a scented pad made of burlap filled with batting.

When I spoke to my friend Rick Caran, whose Yorkie, Jilli Dog, is the internationally known poker-playing pup, he strongly suggested that I only train to the scent — so that my dog wouldn’t think I wanted him to go around grabbing every pant leg he saw.

But which scent should I use? My Google search turned up an array of flavors: mouse, duck, rat and so on. As the idea of bringing rat scent into my New York apartment on purpose was not terribly appealing, I chose duck.

I dug out an old pair of pants, sewed the burlap pad reeking of mallard inside and started working. Sometimes the pants were just a tug-toy, sometimes I tied them to a chair and sometimes I put them on. I invited friends over to put on the pants and let Tiger tug. We rehearsed in the stairwell, the park, on the sidewalk — everywhere. Tiger became a terrific tugging Terrier.
 

I examined the rest of the script. Tiger appeared in more than eight scenes. Mostly, he was “background” — sitting on a chair, for example, but mainly he was going to need to bond with Jake, the young actor playing Milk. I prayed that Jake was a dog lover.

The night before the first day of shooting, I pulled out Tiger’s travel bag. Tiger started jumping around — he clearly loves working. I packed our things: pop-up crate, toys, blanket, duck scent, silent whistle, dog bowl, a selection of collars, brush, paper towels, baby wipes and treats, treats, treats. There were the regular treats from the dog store, but also, string cheese and slices of turkey hot dog.

The next morning we awoke at 5:00 am. More rain. I staggered out of bed. We arrived on location in the projects in Queens and were escorted to our “room” in the “honey wagon”— the colorful name ascribed to a trailer parked near the location. It was about 5 feet by 10 feet — with a toilet at one end. And it was freezing.

Still think movies are glamorous? Nancy and I set up the crate, dumped our stuff, trotted over to the breakfast wagon for some hot coffee, then settled down for a typical day on a movie shoot, waiting to be called to the set.

Four hours later, someone knocked on our door. “They’d like Tiger on the set, please.”

Tiger jumped out of the crate, eager and excited to work. I clipped on the treat pouch, threw on my raincoat, grabbed Tiger’s leash and away we went — down the rickety stairs of the honey wagon, through the mud, around the enormous puddle gathering around the clogged, neglected city drains, past the Kraft services tent and into the apartment building smelling of urine and who-knows-what. Inside, Tiger was introduced to a young teenager named Simone who was playing “Young Vicky.” They were immediately smitten with one another. Tiger would need to sit with Simone on the couch.
 

That was the extent of the direction. The only tricky part: I would have to be hidden from view, behind a thick curtain. The room where they were shooting the scene was so small, only the actors and the cameraman could be inside.

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