The Heidi Chronicles, Part 6: An interview with Animal Actors 4 Hire

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This is Heidi. Earlier this 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 Times Staff Writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

Following the sage advice of Heidi’s former obedience trainer, I nixed animal talent agencies and began researching the world of Hollywood’s professional animal companies, hoping one of them could help Heidi get a paw in the door.

At the trainer’s suggestion, I called Gary Gero of the mega-animal company Birds & Animals Unlimited, with headquarters in Irvine and satellite offices in Florida, New York and the United Kingdom, a company whose long list of credits includes the Harry Potter movies, the 1996 film “101 Dalmatians” (also “102”) and “Eight Below.”

Not surprisingly, Gero was too busy to offer career advice to an unemployed shepherd.


I played phone tag with a couple of other prominent animal companies — and, even with my rip-off radar at level orange, I couldn’t resist submitting some of Heidi’s best photos to a modeling agency that represents pets.

Given Heidi’s German-Belgian heritage, I thought it appropriate to include this simulated alpine visit, actually shot in the Angeles National Forest. A return e-mail offered my snow-hound a three-year contract, but we didn’t read any further than the “admission fee.”

Still Googling in the dark, I came upon Animal Actors 4 Hire, the company of 50-year showbiz veteran Moe DiSesso, for nine years the official animal trainer for “Seinfeld,” animal provider for the movies “Willard,” “Independence Day” and “Annie,” and winner of 11 “Patsies,” the Oscars for animal trainers. Fine credits. Plus, the home page featured photos of a cat playing a banjo and a mouse — rat? — piloting a tiny motorcycle. Who could resist?

I called. But instead of getting Moe, I reached his wife, Sue, also an experienced trainer, who said Moe had passed away last year. Sue sounded quite willing, eager even, to end the conversation right there. But I kept dogging her with questions, and she seemed to know her stuff — including the staggering odds against a house pet like Heidi competing against all the purebred, studio-trained German shepherds available for hire.

Sue reluctantly agreed to meet me for coffee and an interview. I casually suggested that Heidi come too, but just so Sue could use her as an example to illustrate her points — not for an audition, of course.

Secretly, though, I was sure Sue would be so impressed with Heidi’s natural charm that she would volunteer to open doors for the dog. The girl is, after all, a diamond in the ruff — that is, rough.

To catch up on the Heidi Chronicles, go to Chapter One, Two, Three, Four or Five.