Bogart exploded into our lives!



Bogart in "Shakespeare in Love"

Written by Jill Stephens

Professional photography by Daniel Rutland Manners

We were looking for a wiry-haired doggy and, after visiting a few animal shelters in January 2017, there was Bogart, sitting just gazing out at us, with one brown eye and one blue eye, not barking along with all the other dogs. We thought he was a quiet dog.

As we were about to learn, the soul of an actor hid within his quiet, scruffy body, just waiting to come out… 

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

He was picked up as a stray and had been waiting for three months before we adopted him; he was around one-and-a-half years old and no particular breed. Now that we’d found our dog, we took our other dogs to the rescue centre to meet him; they all had an introductory sniff and everything went well.

The next day, he got “the snip” and later got to meet our dogs again on one of their favourite walks. From there, Bogart came home.

He didn’t settle well the first night and so Marke made a cosy bed in the lounge so he could sleep next to him. But it wasn’t long before he discovered that he rather enjoyed being inside on a bed! I think Bogart had spent a lot of time taking care of himself on the streets and it was especially clear that he had his own ideas about what he wanted to do – he didn’t see why he had to come when called, sit and definitely not to lie down!

Bogart was pretty reserved and wasn’t particularly interested in getting love at first, but he got on really well with our other rescue dogs and soon learned a lot from them.

Learning his lines

Without knowing his background and what he was like, we adopted Bogart as a pet, hoping he’d enjoy being in front of an audience and, if not, he’d still be a much-loved family member. He quickly showed he was eager to learn the tricks that the others were doing – and he absolutely loved it!  

Despite his stubborn start, he responded amazingly well to the trick training, and we’re still working with him on certain things. When you don’t know their history, you work with them with positive training if things crop up.

There were lots and lots of hurdles to overcome – from not liking bicycles, motorbikes, horses and being a bit wary of people, to running off and not coming back when called! There are many training opportunities all the time.

I always try and expose the dogs to new things, places, sounds, and activities so that they are comfortable on set and, with the positive reinforcement training, he’s taken it all in his stride and now loves all the attention!

Here’s looking at you, kid

Although he was quiet in his kennel, once he got here to his forever home, his personality soon shone through and he was full of life, bark and bounce! He loves being the centre of attention.

Bogart now joins his three companions, Hobbes, Bentley and Scout, in being trained for stage and film work.

The role for Shakespeare in Love came up, and it required a dog to add a disruption and cause chaos on stage – and with his exuberance for life and willingness to try new things, Bogart seemed to fit the bill! And he was perfect.

Life is a stage

I’ve always enjoyed being around dogs and my Aunt Cheryl took me to lots of dog shows when I was younger, which is where I saw the agility dogs. About nine years ago, I joined an agility class with Hobbes, one of our rescue dogs, where he was scouted for an advert.

Since then, Hobbes has done lots of international commercials and, in 2010, played Sandy in the Annie production at the Artscape. But Hobbes isn’t the only celeb in our family. In 2016, it was the turn of Bentley, another of our rescues. While Hobbes was on standby, Bentley took to the stage as Sandy! Then Scout, our third rescue, did a photoshoot for French Vogue.

And now Bogart has made his debut as Spot in Shakespeare in Love at The Fugard theatre. He absolutely shines in his role as a stage personality.

After training him to jump up and play tug-rope for the show, everyone and everything backstage became fair game. From stage hands to actors with their beautiful plush costumes and cloaks, nothing was safe from Bogart and his tricks!

We try to simulate the circumstances in which the dogs would be working, but there are some things that are difficult to simulate, like dimly lit corridors with different actors rushing by to get off and on stage, with quick dress changes and lots of activity, and of course a live audience. So, it can be quite exciting for them at first. Director Greg, stage manager Juanita, and all of the actors are amazing and incredibly understanding; they’ve made the rehearsals and the show a great experience, which Bogart has benefited so much from.

He now mostly just watches all the activity go by without grabbing their cloaks and always knows when it’s his turn to go on. 

Joy runs

I’ve learnt that you should be careful what you wish for – I wanted a challenge, and a challenge I got! 

Bogart’s main mission was, and still is, to go for a joy run. I play ball in the cul-de-sac with them and, at first, Bogart joined in but would quickly get bored or dart past me with great skill and slip out of the gate – he would look back at us, bounce around and sprint off down the road so we had to give chase. Or we’d find him standing looking up at the trees watching for squirrels! Then we could walk over and calmly lead him back to the car. 

Bentley idolises Hobbes; he copies Hobbes and is an absolute angel. But when Bad Boy Bogart, aka The Beast as we call him when he’s naughty, ran off one day, Bentley sprinted after him and suddenly realised there was a whole new side to life! 

We never punish him, or the next time you won’t catch him. Now we play and walk with him wearing a harness and long lead, working on recall and actively staying engaged in the game. We’re still working on the recall, and mostly making progress, I hope!  

Trick and treat

I enjoyed going with Hobbes to set for filming and he loves it! It’s always reward based, and we make it a fun experience for them – treats, playtime, chilling, and never forcing them to do anything. So, when the opportunity arose to become a licensed animal wrangler and work for Nicole Jennings from Animal Tails, I grabbed it.

I train all my dogs most days, even if it’s just for a few minutes – they love their treat bag and the training, and I use a clicker and treats to train tricks. The clicker makes a click sound and it allows you to mark the precise action that you’d like the dog to do. After you click, you reward the dog with a treat – and it doesn’t take long for them to repeat that action, or they offer you other cute behaviours to get another treat!

Teaching Bogart tricks has been so rewarding; he learns so quickly and loves it. As with all the training, it’s important to take things slowly and keep the dogs in their comfort zone and to make sure it’s a fun, happy experience with lots of yummy treats. I think that has been the main reason for winning him over – with trick training, it’s all through positive reinforcement, and the transformation in him has been amazing.  

And, of course, Bogart is flying the flag for shelter dogs everywhere and proving that they really are wonderful, clever, special companions.