In 2013, we partnered with GOOD to find unique stories about how having a pet can change your place in your neighborhood, community and beyond. This story was contrbuted by Omar von Muller, a renowned Hollywood dog trainer whose famous dogs include Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier seen in 2012 Best Picture nominee The Artist.
When I was a kid growing up in Colombia, I was a natural with animals. People brought me injured birds, dogs, rabbits, chickens —even a bear and an alligator once—and I’d fix them up and try to teach them a few tricks.
Every night when I got home from school, I’d hurry to tend to my animals and then run to the roof of our house, where I’d lie on my belly looking down on them all in the yard as I studied their behaviors. I came from a big family and we didn’t have much money but I dreamt of going to America one day and working in Hollywood with animals.
Chasing the American Dream wasn’t as easy as my family hoped and we struggled at first. I helped my big brother street perform by training his dog co-stars. I branched into commercials and movies, sometimes joining my animals in front of the camera. I eventually settled in Miami just before Hurricane Andrew hit. I refused to evacuate if it meant leaving my dogs, so I sat it out. When we emerged to see what was left, it looked like the end of the world. I never wanted to experience that again, so I picked myself up and started over—this time in Los Angeles with a Jack Russell puppy who’d been found barely alive in the hurricane debris. I named him Andy after the hurricane, and thus began my love affair with Jack Russells.
Ten years and a lot of hard work later, I heard about a naughty young Jack Russell named Uggie who was destined for a California pound after he’d killed a cat. I took him in and started to train him alongside Andy and my best animal actor (up until then), a Jack named Extreme Pete. We began with some basic street entertainment on Santa Monica Boulevard.
It quickly became apparent that Uggie had bigger dreams and he soon grew bored of our routines of hoop-jumping, skateboarding, or collecting dollars from customers. He staggered me with his wit and intelligence and developed his own comic timing. If one of the other dogs slipped up, he’d jump off his stool and steal the limelight (and the cash). Small and good-looking, everybody loved Uggie. Sensing his natural talent, I channeled his energies into more advanced training. He was my fastest learner; watching my every move and needing little encouragement to play dead, walk on his back legs, and act out numerous other remarkable behaviors. Highly food-motivated, he started off working for treats, but after a while he worked to please me—and then, I think, just to please himself.
Read the whole story on the GOOD Pets hub.