101 Dalmatians: The Animals

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In July 1995 head animal trainer and coordinator Gary Gero and his team of trainers from Birds and Animals Unlimited, arrived at Shepperton Studios, England to begin their search for suitable dogs to train for the roles of Pongo, Perdy, Kipper and Fogey.

The dogs were quickly found, all aged between one-and-a-half to two years old. But how easy was it to get people to part with their pets? Not as hard as you'd think. Explains Gero: "We've had a lot of experience acquiring dogs for movies. The dogs we acquire usually come from broken homes and divorces, from breeders whose dog hasn't made the championship and in this case, we've also acquired Dalmatians from rescue centers."

And so began the long, but highly rewarding task of training as Gero's top trainers began to work on the dogs' characters; Mark Forbes on Pongo, Roger Schumacher on Perdy, and Sally Jo Souza on Kipper, and Ray Beal on Kipper and Fogey. In all, four adult Dalmatians played Pongo, three played Perdy, three Airdales played Kipper and two Old English Sheepdogs played Fogey.

"We had a very focused training period which both the dogs and trainers benefited from and enjoyed," Gero says. "Dalmatians have energy to burn and a huge heart, the more training you give them the better they like it. The males are tough and the females are soft and they're all smart. So training was great fun although exhausting. Naturally, the trainers got very attached to their dogs which is fine, because they all came back with us to the U.S."

Meanwhile, Gero was faced with a much more complex and daunting task, to find 99 Dalmatian puppies all aged around eight weeks old.

Advertisements were placed in national newspapers asking breeders who were interested in taking part, to contact the studio.

"We were absolutely adamant that no puppies were to be bred for this film, so we looked for litters that were already planned," Gero says. "It was equally important that we did not actually buy the puppies which would have been a lot simpler and cheaper, but rather hire them. That way we could ask all breeders taking part to ensure that the puppies had homes to go to after filming."

The response was tremendous. However, the work had only just begun. Gero, as well as the firm's in-house veterinarian Peter Scott and head puppy trainer Mary Kay Snyder then began the arduous task of visiting the home of every potential breeder.

"We checked everyone and weeded out any we considered to be puppy farmers," Peter Scott explains. "We looked for healthy environments and healthy puppies and where possible, rational people."

It was Mary Kay Snyder, another of Gero's top trainers, whose task it was to then oversee the training of all the different litters. With the assistance of 12 British trainers, themselves each experienced in obedience training, she began by visiting all the breeders with the trainers who then spent two weeks training the pups within their home, before traveling down to the studio with the breeders and the puppies now aged eight weeks.

As with the adult dogs and in fact all animals, training was based on reward, a mixture of exuberant praise and edible treats. "The puppies loved it," explains Snyder. "They just saw the whole thing as a great game."

The breeders themselves were actively encouraged to join in the fun while their litter was at the studio. "We wanted everyone to know that the puppies welfare was our prime consideration and so Disney readily agreed to fund all breeders' costs, travel, accommodations, everything to ensure their peace of mind-and ours," Gero says.

And the breeders were impressed with what they saw-deluxe purpose-built kennels, a vision in pink and blue, decorated with brightly colored ribbons, balls and bones. Each litter had its own kennel with variable heating and exercise run. "It was more like a nursery than a kennel," says John Hughes. "The puppies couldn't have been better looked after."

However, it wasn't just the designing of the kennels which was of greatest importance to Gero, it was the health of the puppies.

"It's really what drove our whole program," Gero says. "We had to be extremely careful as puppies are delicate and with up to 100 living in the same building, working together, eating together and playing together, there was a risk that if one pup had something they could all get it. It's a bit like sending your child to school and he or she coming home with whatever's going around the classroom.

"So essentially one of the reasons we did a two week training period in their homes was because it acted as a quarantine period. By the time the pups were ready to travel down to the studio, we knew they were healthy," Gero says.

The health of the puppies was also a vital consideration on the set itself. All stages were disinfected, and both cast and crew were made to walk through footbaths of disinfectant before entering a 'puppy area.' Similarly the sets were designed to ensure the animals safety at all times and scheduling was designed first and foremost around the puppies.

"One of the real problems was the rate at which a puppy grows," Gero explains. "The longest any puppy was with us was four weeks, but most of them stayed no longer than a week, especially those doing close-up work where you really noticed their size. Puppies over 12 weeks were just too big. So we had to work out a filming schedule which would ensure we had enough litters to cover the scenes needed."

A complex filming schedule was thus worked out with advice from Gero and veterinarian Peter Scott. This took into consideration not only the availability of litters of puppies, but their meal times, sleeping patterns and play times. As Gero explains, "You can't force a puppy to do something it doesn't want to do. It eats when it's hungry and sleeps when it's tired and if it's not fun a puppy won't work, it's that simple."

For the most part many of the puppies acted as background, but the film features six hero puppies which are easily identifiable: Wizzer, distinguishable by his two black ears; Two-tone, by the one black ear; the highly spotted Lucky; Dipstick, aptly named because of his black tail; Jewel, with her 'necklace' of spots; and Fidget, with the one blue eye.

As no two Dalmatians look the same and it took several puppies and dogs to play the same character, make-up artist and dog breeder Wendy Rawson was employed to add or take away spots and markings where necessary. This was done using a mixture of harmless vegetable dyes. However, by the time the pups returned to their new homes, there was no trace of their temporary markings.

As well as the 12 adult dogs and over 200 puppies, the film also features a menagerie of other animals including a horse, cows, sheep, pigs, a cat, raccoon, skunk, squirrels, mice and a multitude of birds, all of which were trained to do varying tasks; not forgetting the many different dogs who meet and greet Pongo and Perdy on their travels and who assist with the Twilight Bark.

"All the trainers were brilliant" exudes Gero. "Not just the dog and puppy trainers, everyone. It's tough finding experienced trainers to take on all these different animals, not just the glamorous ones. I'm extremely proud of everyone involved. They did a great job."

And as John Freed, the representative from the American Humane Association who was with the production throughout its duration as an independent onlooker, there to oversee all animal activity, says: "These are the best trainers in the world and this was by far the cleanest, healthiest and happiest set I've ever been on and I've been on a bunch of them."

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