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Bill Berloni has been Broadway’s go-to dog trainer since 1976 — the year he discovered and trained the Airedale Terrier mix who portrayed Sandy in the first production of the famed musical Annie. Berloni rescued the dog from a local animal shelter just days before his scheduled euthanization. Since then, he’s adopted countless strays, training everything from dogs to pigs and even rats to appear in a variety of productions, including Legally Blonde: The Musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Frankenstein, Camelot and Oliver.
This year, Annie is celebrating its 35th anniversary Broadway revival, and Berloni was tasked with casting and training the latest Sandy. After a nationwide search, months of training and extensive rehearsals, Berloni's newest canine star will make her Broadway debut when the show opens Nov. 8.
Vetstreet caught up with Berloni to talk about the search for the new Sandy, which he documents in his book Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescued Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars, as well as his accidental dog training career and current challenge — training a pair of scent hounds to attack a fake turkey breast in front of a live audience.
A: Berloni: “Quite by accident. I am self-taught. I never wanted to be an animal trainer; I wanted to be an actor. When I graduated high school in Connecticut, there was a professional theater nearby where I lived called the Goodspeed Opera House. They had summer apprenticeship programs for kids to come in and build scenery and be around professionals. I was the apprentice and was spending my summers just soaking up being around the actors, and they decided to do Annie as a new musical. When they found out how much it would cost to have a dog trainer come in, they needed someone they could convince to train the dog for no money. They approached me and offered me a part in one of their other shows so that I could join the actors union in exchange for finding and training the dog. The dog found for Annie was the first dog that I found. He sort of taught me, and every animal that I’ve worked with since has taught me something new.”
A: “Up until the Internet, I used to go from shelter to shelter looking for dogs. Now I can just go on Petfinder when we are doing a show and are looking for a particular breed. We did a search, and we found three good candidates — one from South Bend, Indiana, one from Nashville, and one from Houston, Texas. The one from Houston, Sunny, won the role of Sandy.”
A: “She was a stray picked up by animal control in Houston. They believe she’s 2 years old. She had some lacerations on her back left leg, and I think she was probably hit by a car. When we got her to New York City, she was a little afraid of the traffic. I named her Sunny because I thought that the sun would come out with her, which is one of the lyrics from the show.”
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