Did you know that A-Z animals is run by Gerry Cott who used to be in Boomtown Rats? Fact.
Back in the day, there were only a couple of fierce animal handlers. Mostly they were scary legends straight out of central casting. Like a French and Saunders sketch they really were all cardies and headscarves, stout shoes and booming voices.
I have vague memories of going to their houses and having dogs and or cats thrust on my lap. Being lectured. Being patronised. The smell. Thanking the production gods that I was not allergic to animal hair.
I remember one of the trainers muttering to me on set “Oh bless them, they just don’t understand” as her pussies were being put through their paces with a ping pong ball.
I felt sorry for the kittens, and she was right, it didn’t seem fair for the poor fur balls to do something so repetitive. Until I realised the pet lady was talking about the Director and the First Assistant and not the performers at all.
And the wrangler would always yelled “Cut” when she thought the trick was performed, causing confusion on set and many lost takes. We had a cat press a doorbell with his paw once. It took hundreds of takes. All to the tune of Cool for Cats. We did it for real, not even with a model cat paw. Of course this was way before the power of post which now allows them to have thumbs.
And there was a white tiger we had in a Halifax ad. A closed set. Howard Brown on silken sheets, miming to “My first, my last, my everything,” with a beautiful exotic large cat lying at the foot of his bed. On the monitor we thought it all looked rather tame and lovely…
…Only later did we discover that the cub was crouched out of Howard’s eye line, but still within hearing. The cat was emitting a low and persistent growl throughout every take. Poor Howard from the Halifax was actually absolutely shitting himself while continuing to “perform”- thinking back he really was a trouper. And we never really got over the vitriol and hatred we got from Animal Rights, however much we protested that the Tiger really did have the best time, and was lavished more attention and love than any other performing artiste I have probably ever worked with.
In more recent time we can only cheer at the performances from our hounds and moggies in Petplan’s My Job Your Job. But let it be a cautionary tale (tail) that just because you read in a script “the cat is lying sleeping” and you imagine taking a camera to your own little darling, try and remember that with lights, cameras, crew and interested onlookers, it is some achievement to make any member of the animal kingdom relax or even stay still.