Pets as Animal Actors
Reporter: Noreen Turyn | Videographer: Jemon Haskins
Amherst County, VA - Do you think your pet should be a movie star? An animal expert in Amherst County could tell you for sure.
Miriam Fields-Babineau has been professionally training animals for decades, and she's been involved in the animal actor business for decades too.
"I've provided not just dogs but cats, elephants, snakes, rodents, birds, turtles for Verizon once," said Fields-Babineau.
Fields-Babineau got into the animal acting business in the early 1980s when her own cat got "discovered" and landed an advertising job. She got the bug and hasn't looked back.
"I guess people recognize the movies mostly... 'War of the Worlds,' 'The Replacements,' 'Enemy of the State.' I did some TV shows I did 'Commander in Chief,' I did the 'District.'"
She's also done countless commercials including one that's just coming out for Cato Fashions. Cheryl Brown's two maltipoos doubled as the star, next to the clothing model of course.
The producers went to Miriam looking for a dog who could do three specific things: Sit and stay, jump off a chair on command and put their paw over their nose.
Brown wasn't sure if her dogs could do that one.
"I said we could do two out of three," said Brown.
But Miriam figured both Sugar and Sunshine could handle the task, so she and Cheryl spent three weeks training the "touch nose" trick. Brown had to agree to specific grooming for her dogs, too. When they hit the set, they did the touch nose trick over and over and over.
"We must have done at least 20 takes of that," Brown recalls.
"On the set it's exhausting and very stressful, there's stress all around, " said Fields-Babineau.
So what does it take to be an animal actor?
"The first thing I need to see is his basic obedience because it's very important they have to know basic things. They have to know to walk with you, sit, stay, down, stay, come," she said.
I gave my dog Cadbury a screen test. Of course I think he's a star, but would Fields-Babineau?
After a couple of tests of making him move, sit and stay, this was her assessment of Cadbury:
"His face is light enough that they can see his expression which is good, so he has the coloring for it and has the temperament for it, but he doesn't have the training for it yet. He needs a lot of distraction training and a lot of hard work to become an animal actor," she said.
Okay, so Cadbury's not ready, but that's an important point. Even if your pet does have what it takes, Brown says you might get some bragging rights, but not much else.
"Well it was a lot of work, I will say that. It's a commitment and at this point the animal owner and the animal doesn't receive a huge amount of compensation for the position, so you have to do it because you love it," said Brown.
Fields-Babineau says you can make as little as $50, but some agencies say you might make a couple of hundred for a day's work. If you happen to have a trained elephant or grizzly bear, you can make into the thousands.
In Fields-Babineau's case, producers know her and call her with specifics, then she provides and trains the animal and is the handler on set.
Learn more about Fields-Babineau's Animal Acting Business.