Stray 'Toto' Finds No Place Like Home

Pup Gets Star Billing In Production Of 'Oz'

June 26, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Toto is not in Kansas anymore.

He followed the yellow brick road east to a theater on the hill and won star billing in the "Wizard of Oz," one of two summer productions at Western Maryland College.

An actor, so unknown he was nameless, landed the part of Dorothy's faithful pet two weeks ago.

The college's Theatre on the Hill put out a cast call for a black cairn terrier to accompany Dorothy on the road to Oz. In addition to stage presence, the pup had to be smallenough to fit in a basket.

After a few fruitless auditions, Ira Domser, the producer, began a kennel search for an amateur. An attack of parvo virus at the Humane Society here prevented hiring a local, he said. He and technical director Steve Parsons rescued a 7-month-oldmale mixed breed from the Anne Arundel County pound and dubbed him "Toto."

"He faked us out," said Domser. "We knew how affectionate he was

when he jumped right into Steve's arms. He's the right size,and his coloring will read well from the stage."

Unlike the original Toto, WMC's version has --es of white around his face, neck and tail.

Precedent exists for conducting a star search at a pound, said Thomas D. Hampton, assistant stage manager and Toto's trainer.

"They found Sandy, Annie's dog, at the New York City pound," he said. "He became a big star on Broadway."

The "scruffy mutt" is hanging out at Alumni Hall, absorbing the atmosphere and getting as much exposure to things theater as he can, said Domser.

The producer said he is not sure just how many scenes Toto will appear in -- "he'll haveto prove himself." The audience could catch its first glimpse of Toto in the opening scene, when he enters wearing flowers in his red bandanna.

For Toto, the weeks since his rescue have been work, work, work: rehearsing and training. The job has its perks, including frequent tasty rewards.

"The dog has the best deal going here," said Domser. "He gets a treat every time he does something good."

Hampton, a June graduate of the college, said the pup appears to be a "natural" and doesn't suffer from stage fright.

"Our main goal is to make Toto well-behaved and responsive to actors and not the audience," said Hampton. "We want to keep him on stage with Dorothy."

After poring over several dog-training books, Hampton is trying to teach Totoa few simple commands: heel, stay, follow. He also plays recordings of loud music and applause to acquaint Toto with normal theater noise.

Toto also will be spending time in the arms of the heroine, Dorothy, played by Patty Addicks. She said it's exciting playing oppositea puppy.

"He's doing so well, I'm sure he'll be ready by opening night, July 26," she said.

Domser said Toto seems unimpressed withhis newfound fame and is enjoying all the attention. So far, the pooch hasn't developed "star-itis," he added.

And, Toto can look forward to a life of ease, far away from the pound where he was found. When his career in the limelight ends, Toto has a home to go to. He'll be moving in with Parsons.

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