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Bill Casey has worked with pets in commercials and on movie sets with some of Hollywood's A-listers and dozens of other household names. Rather than talk about his interactions with the Hollywood elite, he prefers to chat about their furry co-stars. Successful pet auditions are his specialty.
Bill recalls, "I've done everything — cats and dogs, of course, but also lions, tigers, cows, goats, hamsters, rats. Even insects. I've done insects by the gazillions."
Casey has handled and trained animals for the film industry for more than 40 years. His company, Animal Talent of Chicago, has cast animals for 69 feature films, 46 television shows, thousands of commercials, and stage shows. While his agency represents all types of animals, he works most frequently with cats and dogs, he said.
That experience means Casey knows exactly what makes cats and dogs master pet auditions and a good match for working in the entertainment industry.
"I'm deluged with account submissions every week," he said. "So there are certain qualities I require, because I know that will increase our chances of success."
Does Your Pet Have Star Power?
Check out Casey's tips for how to help your dog or cat stand out from the crowd:
- Personality. Animals with outgoing personalities are a necessity in the industry. After all, a dog that's cowering behind their owner's legs or a cat that leaps to the highest point in the room makes for a frustrating photo shoot for everyone involved. Having the right temperament is rarer in cats, so finding a kitty that's an extrovert is especially valuable. "With the right cat personality you can do most things that you can do with most dogs," Casey said. "It really opens up possibilities."
- Extensive training. "Honestly, it's mostly about the training," Casey said. "I tell people to explore every training option you can find in your area: obedience, agility, therapy, signal, even scent work." Training is vital because it increases a dog's vocabulary, and makes them easier to work with. It's not necessarily amazing tricks that matter. For instance, a dog that can respect a long sit-and-stay command is a huge plus, Casey said. If you have a cat? There's even cat agility training classes these days. But if you can't find a training course near you, don't despair. Do some work on your own, Casey suggested. "Again, if you find the right cat personality you can do most things that you can do with most dogs."
- Familiarity with environments and people. Even the most intense training and the most outgoing animal in the world can find the lights, the people and the demands of a film set overwhelming if they have only ever had interactions typical of house pets, Casey said. Instead, many animals, if they're exposed frequently enough to large crowds and diverse settings, can overcome any natural shyness on set, Casey said. Their comfort level is important because it impacts their behavior when being filmed. "If they're stressed out then they won't perform well," he noted.
- Looks. Appearance is last on Casey's list for what's important in breaking into show business. Casey said looks are the last thing he considers when deciding whether to represent a pet. Having said that, having a set of good photos of your pet is vital to passing through pet auditions and being chosen as the starring pup or cat. It's especially important to have a full body shot so the animal's coloring and coat quality is clear, Casey said. "Without a fairly professional-quality image, many animals get overlooked even with training. There's enough competition out there that it's going to be brushed aside." One animal with a disadvantage in the looks department: an animal with all-black fur, especially around the face. The dark fur makes lighting difficult. "It's not impossible. It can be beautiful when done right," Casey noted. "But it takes more work and more time, which means a lot of casting agents will bypass dark-colored animals."
Hard (but Fun!) Work
Breaking into the industry can be difficult, so owners must be aware that there are people who will try to take advantage of them, Casey said. A company that requires a pet owner to pay for a listing is likely not above board.
"Anyone who is charging you to make your dog a star [should] immediately give you warning flags," he advised. "When I use animals, I pay them; not the other way around. You have to be careful about scams. I hate to see that happen to people who really thought they had a special animal."
There are exceptions. Owners should expect to pay for training and professional pet portraits, Casey said. Animal Talent of Chicago, for instance, provides dog training for a fee.
Making it through pet auditions to score a role in a film or become one of the lucky pets in commercials is hard work for pet parents and their furry friends. But the work can be worth it, especially in those moments when dogs and cats are truly having fun on set.
"When they're having fun it reflects in their performance," Casey said. "That's why everything we do is positive-based. We make it play for them. They're rewarded with treats and attention and they love it. It makes it fun for everyone involved to see an animal who is performing well and having fun doing it."
So, if you've ever wondered if your pet has what it takes to dazzle on the big screen or even star in commercials be sure to follow these helpful tips and start bringing your pet to places that are atypical from their home environment to see how they get along with additional commotion. If your pet remembers all of their commands, despite all the extra attention, then you might have a star in the making. There are a number of pet casting agencies throughout the country and world, so do an internet search to see if there are any near you. You don't have to live in Hollywood or New York City to get your pet in a commercial.
Not sure if your pet has what it takes to cope with millions of adoring fans? Start with something small. There are hundreds of pets finding celebrity online through videos posted on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. If your dog or cat has a special talent, take out your phone and start filming. If you get good reactions from friends and family members, they will share it with their connections. Soon your pet could have more followers than you ever could, and the more followers they have, the more likely they are to get noticed. Plus, it's a fun bonding experience for the two of you. Your pet likely wants to please you, and they will be happy with all the joy and praise you give them.
Remember Your Pet's Feelings
Sometimes when you have a dream for your pet's stardom it can be easy to get caught up in it all and forget about your pet's wants and needs. Never force your dog or cat to do something they do not want to do. This can cause stress, illness and injury to your pet if they are reluctant to participate. Always be sure to remember that your pet wants to make you happy, so you should want to make them happy. Check their emotions and temperament — if you see that they aren't acting like they used to, there is a chance that they aren't enjoying the fame as much as you are, and maybe it's time to let them go back to just being a pet.
Pets have been captivating hearts across the world for years, and if you think that your pet has what it takes to be in show business you should definitely give it a shot. Just remember to give us a shout out when your pet gets famous — we love hearing and sharing success stories. We'll be sure to give your pet two paws up at their next pre-screening!
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie who always has to sniff the exact same spot in the neighbor's yard during neighborhood walks.