The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 41: Ginger the Wonder Dog
This is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.
By chance, I've discovered something about "The Heidi Chronicles": When I mention the name of a celebrity, the chapter tends to get picked up by more blogs and websites than when I don't.
To that end, I'd like to mention just a handful of the major luminaries who have not met, or perhaps even heard of, Heidi: Miley Cyrus, Kris Allen, Paris Hilton, Sean Penn, Conan O'Brien, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Octomom, Miss California and all of the Los Angeles Lakers.
There is, however, a lesser-known star that Heidi and I almost met, and regret having missed: Ginger the Wonder Dog.
From the first day of Heidi's studio training with Sue DiSesso of Animal Actors 4 Hire, we heard about Sue's former client, Ginger, a cute Red Merle Australian shepherd owned by Michele Boardman of Mar Vista. Like me, Michele is a regular person who decided to see if her pet could make it in Hollywood. And Ginger did, becoming one of the few privately owned dogs to work consistently in the biz, appearing on "Murphy Brown," "Seinfeld" and in variety shows and commercials. Ginger died in January, at age 15.
During Heidi's weekly training sessions, I would hear from DiSesso about the amazing Ginger, who could limp while carrying a bucket in her mouth, cross a street by herself and wait on the opposite curb, crawl through a tunnel, wave, bow, dig and "say her prayers" -- that is, sink down on her haunches in front of table, chair or bed, rest her chin and cover her face with her paws. And, Ginger was known as the only dog would could daintily pick up a coin with her teeth and put it in the slot of her piggy bank, a trick she performed for Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."
One day, DiSesso and I went through Ginger's resume of more than 50 behaviors to compare it with Heidi's. At the time, Heidi could match six of the behaviors; now she's got more than 10. Even today, however, I think it's unlikely that Heidi will ever climb a 6-foot ladder or cross a bed of logs.
In the fall of 2008, we planned to visit Ginger and Boardman, but Ginger was in frail health and Boardman was skittish about having big, bouncy Heidi invading Ginger's space. And in early April, when I called to try again, I learned that Ginger was gone.
But although she remains broken-hearted about "Ginge," Boardman invited us to visit her home, and it quickly became clear how Ginger learned so much. Boardman admittedly devoted all of her time to Ginger: "She was my working partner and my best friend and we knew each other better than anyone ever could," Boardman says.
My favorite Ginger story: For an audition for a dog food company, Boardman taught the Wonder Dog to sit patiently with two steaks on her paws and the company kibble piled on her nose. Ginger left the steaks and took the kibble. "They didn't use it, but it was a great trick nonetheless," Boardman recalls.
Ginger had the perfect stage mother, and Heidi has -- well, me. But a trainer to the heart, Boardman taught Heidi a couple of new behaviors even during our short visit. While I don't know how my Miss Meat Lips would do with a rare steak, she can now "leave" a biscuit on each paw until she's told to "take it." There will never be another Ginger, but Boardman says Heidi is welcome in her home anytime."She's a smart, sweet girl," Boardman says. I think we'll be back.
-- Diane Haithman
Photos: Ginger. Credit: Michele Boardman