Story By Michelle J. Mills
He’s the perfect leading man: handsome, smart and charming. And he starred in an Oscar-winning film.
This heartbreaker, however, is a real dog. Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier who stole the scenes in the movies “The Artist,” “Water for Elephants” and “Mr. Fix It,” will be riding down Colorado Boulevard during the Rose Parade on the Beverly Hills Pet Care Foundation float, “Follow the Stars — Adopt a Pet.” Joining him on the creation designed by Fiesta Floats of Irwindale will be Debbie Reynolds and Elaine Hendrix, as well as his “dad,” trainer/owner Omar von Muller.
Uggie comes with more credits than pedigree. He won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Collar Awards and served as a spokesdog for Nintendo’s Nintendogs + Cats video game. The 10-year-old became the first dog to put his pawprints in cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on June 25, which the City of Los Angeles declared Uggie Day.
After a couple of treats, Uggie settled down on the couch in his family’s Panorama City home and was ready for our face-to-muzzle chat. He recalled his wild days, when his family was ready to send him to the pound.
“I was way too crazy, chasing cats and chasing dogs and cars,” Uggie barked.
One of von Muller’s friends learned of Uggie’s situation and suggested that the animal trainer check him out.
“He did the nasty things that little dogs do,” von Muller said. Still there was something about Uggie that made von Muller want to give him a chance.
“Omar saw that I was a good-looking Jack, full of energy and Omar knew that all my bad behaviors were nothing but me wanting to do something,” Uggie woofed. “He started working with me and the rest is history. He made me a big star.”
Uggie’s most challenging trick, falling down backwards and playing dead, is also his most popular. It took many hours of practice and a lot of trust for him to learn how to do a falling roll onto his back. He began slowly, practicing the backwards roll over and over on beds and mattresses until he gained confidence and precision. The move made him a hit in “The Artist” and today Uggie does it with ease.
The pup is not only an actor, but a writer. His book, “Uggie, My Story” (Gallery Books, $15), with English journalist Wendy Holden, was published in October.
“I had a story to tell,” Uggie barked. “I was going to the dog pound when I was a puppy, and today I am one of the biggest stars ever, so I wanted to tell all the good things that I did and all the bad things and trouble I got into when I was a kid. Wendy understood everything I was barking.”
Uggie’s path to success hasn’t been all Milk Bones and steak; he has worked hard and knows what it takes to be a star.
“I was not afraid of anything,” Uggie howled. “Nothing got me distracted until I met Reese Witherspoon. Before that, I was very focused, I was very driven. And I loved all the sausages that were given to me by all the stars I worked with. Best of all, I love playing and showing off.”
Uggie is still young at heart and full of energy, but von Muller recognizes that the long hours involved in filmmaking may take their toll, so the little dog is going into semi-retirement. He will take smaller roles that involve less time on the set and make other appearances.
“I definitely want to still keep performing,” Uggie barked. “I want to go to hospitals, I want to go to orphanages where there’s kids, I want to promote animal rescue because there’s a lot of my buddies out there who need help.”
Pet adoption is very important to Uggie.
“There are millions of pets being euthanized mainly because of the negligence of people that adopt the wrong dog and not do the right things, like education and training. People should know what they’re doing before they do it because the ones who suffer are the pets,” Uggie yelped.
“In my opinion, training is probably the most important thing, I call it education, because I used to be a really bad dog when I was a young guy and then the first thing my dad did was discipline me and once I understood right from wrong, everything was fine. I understood what humans wanted from me and the humans understood what I wanted from them.”
Uggie, unlike von Muller, will have no problems getting up early for his float ride in the Rose Parade and his tail wags as he talks about it.
“I’m going to show off a few tricks, hopefully when the cameras are rolling, and wave and smile at everybody,” Uggie arfed.
When queried as to how he plans to wave, Uggie smugly purred that he’ll wave with his paw, of course.