The Dog Blog:
SApaws producer Julie Ruff writes about her Lab-mix Missy, volunteering and adoption. She reviews products, tries recipes and keeps tabs on local news of the canine variety. Guest blogger Jason Olivarri and his Lab Sassy will also chime in from time to time.
Rescued dogs shine in 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'
By Julie Ruff on Feb 15, 2009 6:26 PM
When I spoke to Joanne Wilson, she was riding shotgun next to her husband on their way to Texarkana from Little Rock. From there, it would be about another 200 miles to Gainesville. No need to check a map. She talks as though she's made this trip a hundred times. And her 12 furry passengers, she explained, are just as used to the road.
Broadway Across America is bringing "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" to San Antonio this week, and Joanne is responsible for making sure the eight dogs in the cast are ready for every show in every town on the tour. So Joanne really is the queen of the road. And her dogs are the most loyal subjects you could imagine.
From the streets to the stage, these canine stars have come a long way.
(Photo courtesy Joanne Wilson)
Joanne with her newest dog, Lucky.
The other road warriors with Joanne and her husband are some of their dogs from home — her "old men" who she'd never leave home without. If these dogs were human, Joanne said, you'd find them each in a rocking chair with a cigarette in their hands.
"They can't perform, but they're always with me. They're my babies," she said.
Joanne started this tour with one more dog, a Chihuahua she rescued — something she and her sister Trudy Strong are in the habit of doing as you'll find out. A man with the show in another city fell in love with the little dog, and after seeing a veterinarian, Joanne let her go to her forever home.
Rescuing dogs is why Joanne is on the road and working all the time. It's the only way she can afford to feed, vaccinate and sterilize all the dogs that end up on her doorstep and the ones she finds hungry in the street with no one to claim them.
Joanne has 45 dogs back home she has to think about. Trudy, who also knows a thing or two about training and performing, takes care of them while Joanne is on the road.
"It's not easy. How could I say no when I have the room? It's the money I don't have," Joanne said. "That's why I'm out here working."
Sometimes the dogs she finds are just lost and need help getting back home. Joanne is happy to lend a hand. If she can't find their owners, they take up residence with her until she can find them a good home. And sometimes, if a dog shows interest in learning and performing, he may become part of the show.
(Photo by Ian Ibbetson)
Samantha as "Edison," (from left) Camille Mancuso as "Jemima Potts," Steve Wilson as "Caractacus Potts," and Zachary Carter Sayle as "Jeremy Potts" in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
People often bring dogs to Joanne, knowing her reputation for taking in unwanted dogs. Buddy, a rat terrier, was one such dog. He now knows how to run the weave polls on his back legs, but his previous owners didn't want him because they said he "wouldn't mind." Buddy was scared and tried to bite any time Joanne got near his collar. But she showed Buddy she wasn't going to hurt him, and soon he was learning a new trick every day.
"He was so eager to please. He was learning tricks so fast, I was running out of things to teach him," Joanne said.
Buddy is currently on the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" tour and is one of Joanne's greatest performers. She and Trudy have been training animals for more than 30 years. And "Chitty" isn't Joanne's only canine gig. Go to her Web site to see the different acts and some of her other doggie stars.
So what's Joanne's training secret?
"It's consistency, and I'm with them all the time. They trust me and would probably do whatever I asked them to," she said.
But the toughest part, Joanne said, is not the training or the performing. It's all the driving. And when you're working with dogs, you have to be committed to a schedule. Joanne and her gang know theirs well. It includes six stops a day. And each dog gets bathed once a week to look their best for the show.
But it's worth it, Joanne said, to see them on the day of the show. Everyone is laying around all day, but the minute she stands up for the show, the dogs jump up, ready to go. They can't wait to get inside and on stage and will pull Joanne the whole way there. The whirlwind entrance is punctuated with happy barks and wagging tails.
"They get so excited. I get tickled every time I see them," Joanne said.
'Chitty' dogs are audience favorites
By Julie Ruff
Feb 19, 2009 2:31 PM |
I went to see "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" at the Majestic Theatre, and having never seen the movie or anything before, I didn't know what to expect. I definitely was not disappointed.
Joanne Wilson's dogs, who I wrote about a few days ago, were delightful and adorable. The audience oohed and ahhed whenever they made an appearance. The dogs stole the scene a few times.
Samantha, who plays the Potts' dog Edison, received a large applause at the end. Don't tell the human actors, but I think it was greater than what some of them received.
Joanne says Samantha's breed is anyone's guess. She was left at a veterinarian's office as a young pup. Joanne could tell she was going to be big and wasn't sure she wanted another big dog. But she knew she couldn't leave her there. Audiences are glad she didn't. Samantha is about 8 and a half years old now, which was surprising to me because she bounds across the stage like a young pup. You can probably see the joy on her face from the back row.
By the end of the show, all the smaller dogs had eaten their dinner and were tucked away. I met Joanne at her truck out back and was happy to see Samantha was still out. (I really wanted to pet "Edison.") Some of her fans happened by, and Samantha was happy to let them scratch her back.
It's a fun show, so I definitely recommend it. The kids are cute, and the "bad guys" are very funny. It runs through Sunday, and you can get tickets at the Majestic Box Office and other Ticketmaster outlets or through charge-by-phone at (210) 224-9600.
(Photo of Samantha courtesy Joanne Wilson, wilsondogs.com)
-- Julie J. Ruff/mySA.com
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