Just hours away from being euthanized, a two-year-old mutt in Houston got her big break when an animal trainer recognized her star quality. Sunny, a terrier mix, was quickly adopted and flown to New York City to try out for the role of “Sandy” in the new Broadway production of Annie.
“Something about her picture appealed to me,” William Berloni, the animal trainer in charge of casting the role told ABC News. “We already had three other candidates, but when I met Sunny I thought she’d be a great fit. She’s outgoing, friendly and eager to learn.”
Sunny got the role, in part because she looks so similar to the original Sandy, who was also chosen by Berloni.
“It’s something about the sad eyes,” Berloni said. “They just get you. It was definitely typecasting.”
Berloni has trained all the Sandys, as well as numerous other animals for the stage and screen. He says it takes a certain kind of personality and some special training to prepare a dog for the Great White Way.
“First, we have to get her acclimated to life in New York City,” he told ABC. “She was a stray, and might have been hit by a car, so she gets a little nervous when cars drive by, which can be a problem in New York.”
A world away from her previous hard-knock shelter life, Sunny now lives with Berloni and 22 other showbiz dogs on a 90-acrea estate in central Connecticut. Berloni and his wife are working to get her ready for the stage by teaching her basic skills like walking and sitting on command.
“She came to us with no tricks, so we have to start with getting her used to an audience, bright lights, an orchestra,” Berloni told ABC. “When we learn her personality a bit more and get her working with Lilla [Crawford, the actress playing Annie], we’ll start putting the show together. Really the dog dictates what happens.”
Sunny was found during a nationwide shelter search for a new Sandy. Berloni has looked in shelters for all of the dogs he has cast in other shows and movies, including Toto in The Wizard of Oz on Broadway and Bruiser in the Legally Blonde films. It all started when he was charged with casting Sandy for the very first production on Annie.
“Somebody told me they had cheap dogs at the pound,” Berloni told ABC. “When I saw the conditions they were living in, I was profoundly moved. So I made a promise to myself that I would only get rescue dogs from then on.”
Dogs in Houston shelters, where Sunny was found, are only held for 48 hours before being euthanized. Sunny had been held for one day already when Berloni found her picture.
“I called an ex-trainer I knew in Houston, and had her go to the shelter right away and adopt her on my behalf,” Berloni said. “There’s definitely an element of fate in her story.”
Performances of Annie begin on Oct. 3. During the show’s run, the dog food company Pedigree has teamed with the production to raise money to promote dog adoption and to provide shelters with resources. For each ticket sold, Pedigree will donate $2 to the Pedigree Foundation, up to $1 million.