When Heather Allard, an entrepreneur from Pawtucket, R.I., saw the dog with the red bow tie on the Internet, she had to have him. It was partly the mixed boxer’s commanding jaw and the steadiness of his eyes, but it was mostly his name: James Earl Jones.
“My first dog was named Simba, and I thought it was a sign that James Earl Jones played Simba’s father in ‘The Lion King,’” said Allard, 44. Soon the dog, formerly an unnamed stray from Alabama, was living with her.
Credit for the name goes to Sara Cross, the founder of Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue, which started naming its adoptable dogs after celebrities three years ago. The dogs have included Dakota Fanning (a dachshund mix), Janeane Garofalo (pit bull) and Colin Firth (hound/terrier).
A spate of upstart pet agencies have followed suit, as a way of creating an instant bond between homeless dogs and potential adopters.
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“I noticed, when I was looking for my own dogs, people named them these names that were random with no clue into the personality of the dog that you’re supposed to make a member of your family,” said Zarina Mak, the founder of See Spot Rescued, an adoption agency in Jersey City, N.J., that began using celebrity names in 2011.
Giving a doggy in an online window a celebrity name can also deepen a viewer’s empathy. Who wouldn’t want to take a love-starved George Clooney or Penélope Cruz home for a cuddle? Or, for that matter, Willie Nelson?
“The name made me think how cool: I would love a dog named Willie Nelson,” said Robert Raymond, a reality show producer in Brooklyn, N.Y., who adopted the cattle dog/basset hound mix after seeing him on his Facebook feed. (He had not heard about the dog named Willie Nelson in the 2011 film “Our Idiot Brother,” but he has since been told countless times.)
It’s not usual for pet owners to see parallels between their animal and the celebrity in question.
“He ate my girlfriend’s weed,” Raymond, 41, said of Willie.
Or, for that matter, dissimilarities.
“He doesn’t bark very much,” Allard said of James Earl Jones. “And when he does, it’s not a deep bark.”
Naming dogs after celebrities isn’t a new thing. Even celebrities have named their dogs after other celebrities. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner named their Labrador Martha Stewart, or when 50 Cent and Eva Longoria named their respective dogs Oprah.
What’s new is using the names as a marketing strategy. It is part of an evolution at shelters to find alternatives to euthanizing animals. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that the number of dogs euthanized in shelters has dropped to 3 million this year, from 20 million a year in the 1970s.
“A lot of that has to do with bringing awareness to shelters,” said Lindsey Calabrese, a spokeswoman for North Shore Animal League America. “A decade ago people thought there were only pit bulls and dogs with problems in shelters.”
For now, the celebrity-naming trend is confined to smaller agencies. When North Shore receives a large number of animals at once and needs to come up with names, it usually sticks to a theme, like flowers. Think Rose, Tulip, Lilac.
By contrast, See Spot Rescued turns to pop culture for inspiration.
“We did a series of newscasters,” Mak said, “including Lester Holt and a 5-year-old golden retriever named Diane Sawyer.”