Last month I published my first book Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors, co-written with my friends Allen and Linda Anderson, and featuring a foreword from America’s Veterinarian, Dr. Marty Becker.
I approached the book with a fan’s mentality: I was raised on Disney movies and iconic television shows like “Lassie,” “Mr. Ed,” and “Flipper.” Those animal stars are some of the most iconic in Hollywood history, and I was so honored to learn that American Humane Association’s “No Animals Were Harmed®” Program was there on set then to make sure those stars were safe when bringing their larger than life roles to the silver and small screen. This book is a love letter to not only those amazing animal actors, but their hardworking, dedicated trainers as well. My goal with the book was to show readers how much hard work and long hours it takes to make these roles a reality, and the amount of effort our own Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ go through to truly ensure the safety of those furry, winged, and scaled actors.
Now that the hardcover edition (featuring Richard Gere and Chico the Akita, the titular canine star of Hachi) is in bookstores everywhere, I’ve been on the road at Barnes & Nobles around the country to meet people like me: lifelong fans of animal actors. We’ve had some great stops along the way, and have many touching experiences we’ll cherish for a lifetime.
So far, the tour has hit Houston; Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Winston-Salem, in my home state of North Carolina, and it’s been the thrill of a lifetime to meet so many wonderful Americans and share tales of animal actors featured in the book. Tales like Casey, the diva bear who would only work for KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken – not Extra Crispy– as his treat. The bear had a discriminating palate and nothing but the Colonel’s Original Recipe would do. Or tales like how Crystal the capuchin – referred to as the Angelina Jolie of animal stars – has formed true bonds with her human co-stars, and brought comfort and joy to Robin Williams on his birthday, just a few short weeks before his life was tragically cut short. He called Crystal his favorite leading lady, which is certainly high praise from someone with so many credits to his name.
At every stop we’ve been joined by Hudson, the delightful Golden Retriever you know as Willie Nelson from the 2011 comedy Our Idiot Brother, where he shared the screen with Paul Rudd. Hudson has also been on “Saturday Night Live” several times, including most famously as Mitt Romney’s dog during a skit airing close to the 2012 election. Christina Potter, Hudson’s trainer and mom, has been such a joy to work with. She loves showing off Hudson’s range of tricks to the delight of children and really anyone who meets him.
Not only has Hudson been with us, but we’ve had the chance to be joined by some special Hero Dog winners as well. In Boston on October 22 we had the pleasure of welcoming Stella, the standard poodle winner of the Therapy Dog category at the 2012 Hero Dog Awards. As always, she was dressed in an outfit her mom Marissa had put together, and in Boston it was a lovely green sweater Marissa had knitted herself.
While there we made friends with a young veteran named Nathan who is going through a rough time since returning home from deployment. He was in the store to buy a chemistry book, but his life may have changed forever after meeting Stella. He ended up spending an hour with us, and not only bought a copy of Animal Stars, but truly bonded with Stella (see picture at right of them). Nathan sent a very touching email to Stella, where he said that bonding with her made him want to look into getting a service dog, so he could learn to live and love again. Nathan’s email is why we are doing this tour. And we wish him the very best.
The Sunday stop at Winston-Salem had several 2014 Hero Dog winners in the house: JJ the Service Dog category winner and Donna Lawrence, whose lovable pit bull mix Susie is the new American Hero Dog. Of course, since JJ is a service dog, she was there with KK, the lovely little girl coping with a very serious condition. JJ is her number one line of defense for sensing when severe reactions are about to occur, and alerts KK’s parents and teachers to administer medicine immediately. I can’t think of a more special, meaningful example of the human-animal bond. Hudson seemed to have huge crush on JJ, rushing over to sniff her at every chance he got.
I’m writing this now as I’m about to board a flight to Las Vegas, site of a tour stop on Tuesday October 28. This will be the first of three stops this week, with Kansas City and Nashville still to come in the next few days. This week we will welcome another animal star to our tour, Bonny the Shih Tzu who you know as the star of the movie Seven Psychopaths. Like many of the animal actors featured in the book, Bonny is a rescue, and was given a second chance at life. From once languishing in a shelter to then co-starring in a movie with Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson, not a bad gig.
I want to thank everyone who has come to our events so far and for everyone planning on coming to the final few stops. But most of all, I want to thank Christina and her husband Taylor, who have driven from their home in New Jersey to every stop so far. They’ve put a lot of miles on their tires and taken off a lot of time, going from Texas to DC to Boston to North Carolina just to be with us. All four of their dogs are along for the ride, including Chester the Berger Picard, and their two Chinese Cresteds, Pepe and Morgan. The Potters are quite the sight when they come into a bookstore or hotel with all four dogs in tow.
We’ll see the Potters once again when they come back down to North Carolina for our stop in Charlotte on November 15.
I hope to see more fans of animal stars in the next few days. Be sure to visit the book’s website for all the dates, times, and locations. Until then, as I say on my radio show, let’s all remember to Be Humane!