By Shawna Hickman, Staff Writer
Reprinted with permission from The Littleton Independent
Hollywood Bound – Black Lab Haines is a Hollywood star. Discovered at the People’s Fair earlier this summer, Haines will make his debut on Animal Planet’s Pet Star on September 19.Black lab Haines is a Hollywood star.
Discovered at the People’s fair earlier this summer, Haines will make his debut on Animal Planet’s Pet Star on Sept. 19.
Owner Vicky Kirkland talked excitedly about the experience while Haines slept by her feet, oblivious to his fame.
“I felt like a Hollywood Star,” the Littleton resident said. “I’m still floating.”
Haines’ road to stardom began after Kirkland saw an ad in the paper about Pet Star, a show on animal Planet that is a combination of American Idol and Stupid Pet Tricks. She mailed a videotape of Haines performing to animal Planet, but got a rejection letter.
Less than one week before show producer Bill Langworthy was scheduled to be at the People’s Fair auditioning dogs, she got a call from another producer Deborah Carroll telling her about the audition. She took Haines to the fair, and on the 16th Street Mall with people and dogs all around, as well as a jack hammer pounding, she and Haines showed off their best with the help of a pork roast.
“Fortunately I hadn’t fed him the night before,” she said. “You always need a good hungry dog. I was just like this, ‘Treat, treat, treat.’ ”
About a week later Kirkland got a call from Pet Star asking her to bring Haines out for a show.
“It’s like if you were an actor or actress and you had been taking acting lessons and all of a sudden you got your big break,” she said. “That’s what it felt like to me.”
Haines’ tricks include thinking, bowing to Queen Vicky, crawling to his royal quarters and rolling himself in a royal blanket. The hit, Kirkland said, was when Haines crawled toward the judges showing his teeth as if in a grin.
“(The judges) just loved it, ” she said. “They couldn’t believe how cute he was when he did that.”
Carroll said she thoroughly enjoyed meeting Kirkland and Haines.
“They were awesome,” she said. “Do you have any idea how many acts we see and how few get on the show? You’ve got to be really special to get on the show… We wish all of our acts could be like Haines.”
Carroll said she hopes Kirkland works with Haines or another dog and comes back to the show because they were so much fun to work with and were outstanding.
Getting Haines to Pet Star has been a long journey. Kirkland adopted Haines six years ago when he was 8 weeks old to train for a companion service dog. Right away he was trouble.
“He was a character,” she said. “He was probably the worst puppy I’ve ever had. He was mean. He was mad at the world.”
When Kirkland and friends tried to hold or cuddle Haines, he growled or tried to bite. She sought advice from an animal behaviorist at Tufts University, who diagnosed him being claustrophobic and told her to train him using only positive reinforcement. Now she is a professional dog trainer teaching others the technique.
“You’re training an animal,” she said. “They don’t need to know every time they get something wrong. I wouldn’t want to know every time I made a mistake.”
Both Haines and Kirkland’s other dog, Bronco, didn’t pass muster as companion dogs and moved in with Kirkland for life.
For the show, Kirkland compiled several of Haines’ tricks into a skit.
Other animals on the show include a 650-pound pig a rabbit and a chicken. Kirkland was invited to come back this spring to be on another show with another skit full of tricks. She said she’s already busy working on it because when a dog is competing against a 650-pound pig, the dog has to be that much more interesting.
“With dogs, it’s got to be really good, really high-level stuff,” she said. “You’d better be doing something nobody else is doing.”
For Kirkland, Haines has helped her realize her 25-year-old dream of working with dogs and getting a taste of show business.
“I told my friend, ‘Remember when I said I wanted to do something with dogs and with Hollywood?’ ” she said. “Well, now I’m there.”