Doggy daycare was hot. News channels beat a path to my training school, microphones thrust into inquisitive canine faces. A few reporters asked quasi-serious questions about the business side of dog training and daycare while others climbed into crates and panted for the camera. It soon occurred to me to use these fifteen minutes of fame to achieve positive change.
This phrase, ‘achieve positive change’, was a favorite of the new Chicago Animal Control director, Dr. Gene Mueller. The cavernous facility saw up to 30,000 animals come through each year, and before Dr. Mueller arrived, the vast majority did not leave through the front door. The new director was a breath of fresh air and made his mark early in his tenure. He welcomed volunteers, reached out to rescue groups, filled the adoption rooms with dogs and cats and held staff accountable. I promised him a TV spot on a popular Morning Zoo style news show, hosted by leggy and lovely anchors who were sharp as tacks and energetic as thoroughbreds, along with a goofy weatherman and a macho sports guy. Woe to the slow-witted guest operating on less than five cups of coffee.
I selected two dogs from the shelter to join us on the air; an Australian cattle dog with a sleek black mask and a very large and hairy mutt with a wolfhound head and a kind, open face. They would grab the viewers’ attention and take some heat off of a very nervous but excited Dr. Mueller.
We arranged to meet at the studio at 5:30AM. My assistant nimbly handled both dogs, armed with deli meat stuffed into a soggy pocket. I sat in the make-up chair, primped by pros and loving every minute. Dr. Mueller leaned in, rubbing his eyes.
“They really tape this early?” he asked sleepily. The make-up girl blinked at him as he wandered off in search of coffee.
My stomach clenched when I realized I had not told him it was a live show. My thoughts raced. Maybe it won’t be obvious. Maybe the anchors will have mercy. Maybe a meteor will crash into the set and save us from ruin. I stood up and looked at my fierce and fabulous reflection.
“It will be fine”, I told myself.
Five minutes later we were standing offset peering around a black curtain, watching the weather forecast. Dr. Mueller was shifting from foot to foot and talking to himself, but otherwise holding his own. At the commercial break, the producer flew over to us and whispered importantly.
“We’re live in three minutes”, she punctuated this with three fingers held inches from our faces.
“Let’s keep the energy up!” she hissed, and darted away.
I smiled at Dr. Mueller. His lips were moving, but no sound came out.
“It will be fine”, I soothed, and patted his clammy hand.
The producer ushered us on set. The anchor greeted us warmly. My assistant passed both leashes to me and I arranged the dogs so they would face camera. The director began his countdown.
I squeezed Dr. Mueller’s arm hard until his head swiveled my way.
“Positive changes, community involvement, open operation”, I intoned, reminding him of our talking points. He blinked and nodded.
My assistant waved the deli meat and the dogs perked up.
Dr. Mueller’s head inclined toward mine.
“I think I’m having a colitis attack,” he rasped.
“One”, the director pointed at us, the lights clicked on, and camera rolled.
Three minutes later, we were all patting ourselves on the back. Dr. Mueller spoke easily, I chimed in on point and the dogs behaved. The producer herded us out and congratulated us on a great segment. The anchor waved at Dr. Mueller and he blushed like a schoolboy.
I drove the dogs back to the shelter and sheepishly entered Dr. Mueller’s office. He grinned and held up a stack of phone messages, some congratulatory and many looking to adopt the dogs on TV.
“Now… I just want to know one thing”, he said gravely. I braced myself.
“When are we going on TV again?”