Pet parents who had dreams of greatness for their furry "children" say a talent agency didn't follow through with the auditions and Hollywood connections it promised.
LOS ANGELES — Aside from the occasional trip to the dog park, Goliath the rottweiler spent most of his time lying around with his gingerbread-man-shaped chew toy. Even so, his “cool” and “mellowness” convinced owner Rachel Armstrong he belonged in music videos, and so she paid nearly $2,000 to Hollywood Paws to get him ready for stardom.
But she said all she got to show for it was a snub from “The Tyra Banks Show.”
Now Armstrong, along with the owners of Milo, a basenji; Poopsie, a Lhasa apso; Rusty, a pit bull; and 12 other pet owners have filed a lawsuit alleging Hollywood Paws collected tens of thousands of dollars but failed to deliver auditions, Hollywood connections and prints of doggie head shots.
“I lost a lot of money,” Armstrong said.
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Behind the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this month are the broken dreams of people who thought their pets were on the verge of life-changing stardom only to find their savings depleted.
Since Hollywood studios set up shop, parents have gone to extreme lengths to get their kids into pictures.
Cynthia Mulvihill, the pet owners’ lawyer, said most of her clients don’t have children or their children have grown, and the animals are family.
“Who wouldn’t want to be told, ‘Hey, your member of the family is beautiful and should be in the movies’?” she said.
Hollywood Paws owner Larry Lionetti, a Bay Area resident, said he is dealing with “pet owners similar to a stage parent.”
His school promises dog training, and it delivers, he said. And while animals from Hollywood Paws have won spots in several productions, including “Beauty and the Geek,” “Air Buddies” and commercials for Toyota and H&R Block, he makes no promises that every pet will become a star.
“Everybody knows down in your town that there are actors and actresses waiting on tables until a part comes along,” he said. “Who in L.A. doesn’t know this?”
Lionetti founded Hollywood Paws in Los Angeles two years ago with his wife and daughter. The company’s Web site describes Hollywood Paws as “the first and largest talent agency in the world to focus exclusively on representing and promoting animal actors and studio trainers to the entertainment industry.”
“Ever seen a dog in a movie and wondered if your pooch could become a pet star?” the site asks. “Well, you won’t know if you’re living with an actor dog until you consult the experts.”
Larry Lacourciere said his wife called to inquire about enrolling their labradoodle (poodle-Labrador retriever mix), Wallace.
At first, Lacourciere said, Wallace enjoyed his classes, learning to wipe his paw across his face and to look for marks on a stage and walk toward them. He also learned to “mumble” on command.
But in late 2005, Wallace’s instructor left, and the school began urging him to enroll in classes that were beneath the dog’s advanced thespian talents, Lacourciere said.
What’s more, he said, the company did not seem to have many Hollywood connections.
Armstrong, the owner of Goliath, said that even when Hollywood Paws did set him up on an audition, it didn’t work out the way she had hoped.
Goliath was hired to growl on cue during an episode of “The Tyra Banks Show” on confronting fears, but his scene was cut.
After she asked if Goliath could have his photo taken with the model-turned-talk-show host, Armstrong said she was upbraided by Lionetti for being unprofessional.
For Goliath, at least, the story has a happy ending. Through a former trainer at Hollywood Paws, Goliath is earning $100 a day to appear in a low-budget movie.