Pets, owners strut their stuff in auditions for TV talent show

`Animal Planet' producers sniff out best at Timonium

February 02, 2003|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Blondie came to catch ice cubes from the mouth of her best friend, hoping to become a star. Rio delicately retrieved treats with her crushing black beak. Ulzar cleared the high jump at 3 feet and spun around in glee.

All came with their owners to the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium for a shot at TV fame yesterday, as the World Pets Expo held auditions for Animal Planet's new talent show for the furry and feathered.

About 30 aspiring pets and their owners showed up to vie for spots on the TV show Pet Star, which made its debut on the cable channel Friday. Those with the most interesting tricks will be invited to Hollywood to appear on one of the next 14 planned episodes, where celebrity judges will pick nightly winners of $2,500. The winners of each show will face off in a final round for $25,000.

The Baltimore-area auditions attracted the largest turnout and greatest variety of animals of any of the nine cities where tryouts have been held so far, said segment producer Cindy Deukmejian.

Rachel Herman, 13, brought her rabbit Rascal from Broomall, Pa., to jump over a dowel she had threaded through the holes of two plastic hampers. He jumped about 18 inches -- far less than he was said to achieve at home -- but Rachel was pleased.

Christine Phelps, outfitted in a flag-decorated vest and a black cowboy hat, similarly took pride in the feats of the exotic birds she raises as a hobby in Crum Lynne, Pa. Her African gray parrot Slate played dead to the theme from the TV show Cops, and Rio, a blue and gold macaw, leaned over to pick a chip from her owner's mouth.

"That was disgusting," mused Mario Lopez, host of the auditions. But Phelps, 49, said later her bird's trick had displayed faith in her. "He loves me," she said. "It's 100 percent trust."

Laurie Baker, a professional dog trainer from Milton, Del., brought her jumping Belgian Malinois Ulzar -- "he only speaks French" -- as a break from traditional competitions.

"In obedience, it's very rigid and very structured," said Baker, 38. "It's how straight your dog is sitting. This is fun. We can ad-lib if we want to."

Kari Obrebski, a 30-year-old orthodontist's assistant from Baldwin, demonstrated the ice-cube trick with Blondie, her Labrador retriever.

Asked how she and Blondie came up with such a feat, Obrebski mused: "I think one day she was just looking at me like she wanted [an ice cube], so I shot it out and she caught it."

There were some spectacular failures. One woman tried to coach her mixed-breed dog into a trick, only to have him run into the audience four times before she gave up. A collie wearing a fireman's hat demonstrated how to crawl away from a blaze, but balked at rolling.

Some in the audience, perched along green bleacher seats, were less than impressed.

"It's more entertaining in terms of what the animals aren't doing," said Shelby Dilley, 36, of Baltimore, who left her singing cockatiel at home.

"If you've ever tried to obedience-train your pet, you know they'll do something when you least expect it," Dilley said. "Then, when you try it in front of people, they won't."

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