Finding Toto 2
By SUSIE OUDERKIRK
Las Cruces Bulletin
Less than three months from opening night of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Las Cruces Community Theatre, the lives of two stray rescue dogs have changed dramatically as they move into their new role of stage actors.
A little history
In June, Kelly Barker of the Las Cruces based animal welfare organization, Uncaged Paws spearheaded the search for two dogs to play the role of Toto in the Las Cruces theater’s holiday production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The purpose was to bring attention to the wonderful dogs being put to sleep in shelters. After the run of the play in December, both Totos would be offered for adoption.
Kelly’s search of kill shelters found two Toto types: a female poodle mix in Artesia and a male terrier in Roswell. The female was rescued on the last day of her life: 72 hours earlier she had been given three days before euthanasia. The male was also in “code red” status and his time was up when he was spotted just in time for the transport to Las Cruces. Both dogs arrived at my house for fostering and training on June 30. To make their transitions to Toto easier, I gave the dogs names that sound similar to Toto: the female became Tori, the male Moto.
The first thing was to get both dogs leash trained and begin basic obedience.
Although both had been shuffled around in shelters (and who knows what before then), they took to the training quickly and enjoyed the attention.
As a dog trainer for stage and movies, I’ve learned that dogs really, really like to have rules and flourish with a definite set schedule of work and responsibility. Tori and Moto looked forward to their leash training and expressed their joy with body language and bonding to me.
While working on the command I use when lifting the dogs, (“up”), I noticed Tori was gaining weight—almost too much to be easily lifted and carried.
We discovered she was pregnant, and had been before she arrived at the Artesia shelter.
Dr. Amber Thompson at Arroyo Vet Clinic told us Tori would deliver the puppies very soon. And she did. On Aug. 3, Tori gave birth to five puppies. Three of them were stillborn, but one male and one female arrived in wiggly good health.
Because my home and schedule are not set up for puppies, Kelly reached out and found Heidi Alterson, DNP, owner of MobileDocNP and animal lover who agreed to foster Tori and her babies for the next eight weeks.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Moto enjoyed private training sessions and quickly moved from basic leash obedience to working off the leash. He’s learned “come” (to come front and center when I call), “heel” (to walk by my left leg), “sit” (to sit down every time I stop), “stay” (to sit, look me in the eye and stay immobile while I walk away and come back), “wait” (to sit and wait until I call him to come) and “bark” (that’s obvious).
More and increasingly difficult tricks will come into his repertoire as “The Wizard of Oz” director Janet Beatty-Payne makes decisions about what will be required of Toto on stage.
Moto made his first public appearance at the NMSU Fall Arts Preview with Dorothy, played by Clarivel Garcia. He was mildly disoriented when I moved out of sight as Clarivel held him while singing “Over the Rainbow,” but he was a gentleman and refrained from relieving himself on stage. And he’ll only get better over the next few weeks.
Tori’s puppies, Liza and Joey, will be weaned by the first week of October and Kelly will be organizing their adoptions.
Tori will then come back into training and do her best to catch up to Moto.
Stay tuned for information about the adoption process of the puppies, and, after the run of the play in late December, the search for the perfect forever homes for Tori and Moto. You can follow their progress on Facebook at Finding Toto 2. Both dogs will make their next public appearance at the St. Clair Winery Yappy Hour Wednesday, Sept. 21.
One of the Totos, rescued from a shelter, is examined by Dr. Amber Thompson of Arroyo Vet Clinic. Tori gave birth to two puppies Aug. 3.
BULLETIN PHOTO BY SUSIE OUDERKIRK