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    Posted March 10, 2010

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Tails On Tour: A Puppy on the Road

By Kevin McMahon


From left: Jetson, Charlie, Seamus

A puppy? On the road? Are you out of your mind? A chorus of warnings came not only from my fellow ensemble members but from the principals, too. Joining the first National tour of WICKED in November of 2008, I was still stinging from the recent loss of my beloved lab mix Lily, but it was March now, and, it was time. For me, at least, life is just better with a dog. I looked around my company and seeing others not only making it work, but thriving from it, I knew it could be done. So, thinking long-term life on the road, I decided it was time to consider a touring companion. I also knew it would require an enormous amount of effort and planning. Being the researcher that I am, I poured over books and Internet pages trying to determine the exact breed that would be most suited. I weighed the option of adopting an older dog, but was advised that a puppy might be a better choice as the lifestyle I was bringing him into would become second nature and not something he would have to adjust to. I wanted something small, but not too small, one that didn't bark (much) and one that liked to exercise but wasn't crazy. The Whippet kept coming up in web searches. A Whippet? What's a Whippet? A smaller version of a Greyhound, the books said. "A sprinter, then a couch potato. Does well in apartment living and adapts well as long as they have their special person." Sounds perfect. But where do you get one of those? As luck would have it, we were in Portland and I found a local breeder who had a litter of pups ready for adoption. Enter the dog soon to be known as Seamus, a nine-week-old white brindle sweetheart. It was love at first sight.


WICKED'S Best Friends !

I was fortunate to have the guidance of several pet road veterans, in particular our Dr. Dillamond, Paul Slade Smith, and our makeup supervisor, Christina Tracey, to hold my hand the first few weeks. This was my fourth puppy but my first away from home. Potty training was a bit more of a challenge, but with the help of the friendly desk staff at the Residence Inn in Salt Lake City I was able to secure a first floor unit right near an exit for the quick puppy potty break. Thankfully, he was a quick learner.

Our tour is lucky. At this point, we have three-week minimum engagements, so the constant upheaval of the road is kept to a minimum. Within our company we currently have quite a menagerie - eight dogs and four cats: my Seamus; Paul Slade Smith's American Eskimo mix, Charlie; the feline trio Clementine, Frank and Marla; Christina Tracey's Jack Russell, Jetson; Stephanie Torns' Morkie, Missy Monroe; Spencer Jones and Adam Sanford's Chihuahua, Roxie; Rachel Jouzapatis' Boxer, Ajax; Randy Danson's Toy Poodle, Beeper; Janet Cadmus's kitten, Maverick, who was found abandoned on a hike in Salt Lake City, and the latest addition, Merideth Kaye Clark's Goldendoodle pup, Huck.

Leaving your pet at home just isn't an option for some, and it shouldn't have to be a disqualification for joining a tour or taking a long-term job at a regional theatre. Where there is a will there is a way, but understand that you may have to make some serious sacrifices, both personally and financially to make this work. Seamus is now almost a year old and is thriving on the road. We have, however, learned a few things.

Do:

  • Have a Plan B: Not all pets will do well with the constant changes of tour life. Have a family member or close friend whom you trust that is willing and able to take over temporarily, or maybe even full time, if your animal companion is not thriving or happy in this environment.

  • Expect to adjust your social activity: Your pet becomes the priority outside of the show. Walks between performances may prevent you from trying the latest hot restaurant and opening night parties may be limited or curtailed when you have a dog in a hotel room waiting for you. (Their happy face beats the steam table food any day - even if it is free!)


    Christina Tracey, Kevin McMahon, Paul Slade Smith

  • Check your contract: Some riders specifically prohibit pets. If management is providing housing and specific travel (not per diem and travel reimbursement) they are within their rights.

  • Assume you are now on your own as far as travel and housing: You can't expect your company management to make any pet arrangements for you. That includes booking your pet on the company flight. Some airlines have restrictions on how many pets can fly on each flight. It is up to you to make these arrangements or find alternative travel. Also, don't expect management to find hotels that accept pets. Often, a pet friendly hotel is an option, but they are in no way contractually obligated to find these terms for you. Many websites are available that narrow your search to these pet friendly hotels or short-term vacation properties.

  • Expect to pay more: Most hotels and nearly all short-term rentals require extra fees or deposits for pets. If you will be flying with your pet, expect to pay between $75 - $150 each way to have your animal onboard whether they are with you in the cabin or in a crate in cargo. You may also need to arrange your own transport to and from the airport, as you can't expect to take your pet on any bus provided by the company.

  • Cultivate a group of pet owners and pet lovers who you can rely on for support. Sometimes, with vacations, understudy rehearsals and put ins, it does take a village.

  • Consider the size of your pet: Some hotels don't take dogs over 30 lbs. Animals over 20 lbs or those that can't fit easily into an under the seat carrier will have to fly as cargo. That can be stressful for your animal and to you.

  • Consider driving the tour: Because of travel restrictions, many of us with pets have decided to drive the tour. Not only will you have greater flexibility with your pet once you arrive, you can expand your housing options to pet friendly properties outside the theatre radius. However, you need to consider your itinerary and know that you can safely make the drive in the time allocated.

  • Talk to the local dressers and crew about good vets, doggie day care and reliable pet sitters. Good doggie day care is a lifesaver on two show days! They're exhausted and you know they've had a good day, even without you. Don't ever expect to bring your pet to the theatre with you.

  • Consider the age and temperament of your pet: While potty training is possible on the road, it presents a whole new challenge. Also, an older pet may not be as flexible as she once was. Some animals become stressed with new environments; some could care less as long as you are around. Only you can determine if your pet is a good candidate for this lifestyle.

Don't:

  • Take any pet on the road if you aren't comfortable with any of this.

As any pet guardian knows, the rewards of having an animal companion are astounding. Some of my best memories so far revolve around the adventures we've taken with our little "Wicked pack." Hiking in Utah, evening strolls along the river walk in San Antonio, sailing in Seattle, sunning on the dog beach in San Diego and romping in the snow in Denver. Something else happens too; the bubble of tour life gets bursts a little more often when you have something outside yourself and your show to focus on. Cast morale is up when the pets are around. I think that's a good thing. It keeps us emotionally balanced and it's not only healthy for us, but for the show that we are proudly out here to do. Everyone wins. And, you might get a sloppy kiss, too.

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