–Garrison Keiler, “News from Lake Woebegone”
They wanted him to demonstrate his horse work but we couldn’t find a horse that would willingly ride the freight elevator to the soundstage on the third floor of a downtown TV studio, so instead he thought of using a dog as the model.
In the past he taught staff at the Humane Society how to do simple bodywork to relieve chronic pain, which makes the dogs calmer and more adoptable. And so dogwork it was.
Since it’s a live show, he chose a dog that was familiar with being in front of a crowd, an australian shepherd (Ms. B) who is a national herding champion. During a competition, a cow had injured Ms. B’s leg. It hadn’t healed well enough for her to compete again until Joseph worked with her, so she’s a great success story.
Ms. B is also fine around bright lights and applause. Joseph said the dog was a real ham, the perfect TV demo dog.
That morning the owner met us at the station. Ms. B and Joseph practiced backstage. Sure enough, the dog was alert, responsive and delightful. Onstage would be the three of us — Joseph, Ms. B, and me, so I could explain what Joseph was doing as he worked with her.
The crew shuffled us onstage during a break. They attached microphones to our collars and belts, brought Ms. B onstage with us, and called for quiet on the set.
Lights, camera, action!
Here’s where it all goes south.
The show’s host introduces the segment. You hear her voice but in the background, you also hear Ms. B whining, whining, whining because an unfamiliar thing is happening: Ms. B’s owner is sitting in the audience and NOT sitting next to Ms. B.
The host asks Joseph a question but at that same moment Ms. B lunges toward the audience trying to get offstage to be with her owner.
Joseph leans down and comforts the nervous dog so the host turns to me with her opening question, but apparently when Ms. B lunged, she disconnected my mike wire, so my lips move but no sound comes out.
The cameraman meanwhile has directed his camera to the place where all the action is and next you see a tight closeup of Ms. B trying frantically to climb down off the stage. Little paws stretching out and reaching as far as she can down the stairs, wanting so much to please go to mama.
The host scratches her throat and in a gravelly voiced aside tells the audience that she’s allergic to dogs, that her co-host was scheduled to do this show but unexpectedly had to go out of town so they called her this morning to fill in.
She turns to ask Joseph a question as he grapples with the dog. The dog has now managed to unplug Joseph’s mike, so you hear Joseph’s voice waaaay in the background. But don’t worry — all’s not quiet. You DEFINITELY hear Ms. B whimpering VERY LOUDLY in the foreground.
Joseph’s mike suddenly comes back on and he quickly gives a very short explanation of his work. As if anyone at this point cared.
As I sit onstage waiting for the assistant to finish reconnecting my microphone, I put a smile on my face, the kind you wear when you’re trying desperately to make a situation appear as though there’s nothing, nothing at all, going wrong but I see, yes, the host is definitely breaking out in big red hives. On live TV.
Due to Ms. B’s growing agitation, I ask the host if she’d mind if we let Ms. B’s owner come up on stage and sit next to her dog. The host, scratching her throat, says in a husky voice that it would be fine. “Dogs,” she says raspily, “make me itchy all over.”
Her owner comes onstage and Ms. B calms down somewhat and Joseph finally gets a chance to show the audience a technique that relieves arthritic joints.
Ms. B is a long haired dog and as Joseph’s hands move along her spine, her owner, with a hint of embarassment, mentions that it’s shedding season. Sure enough, wisps of long, graceful dog hairs billow up around them.
They hang in the air, suspended. Then, ever so slowly, they drift as if drawn by a magnet toward the host.
Wisely the camera doesn’t show the host again, who now has large red welts all over her face and neck. Instead the camera pans to Joseph as he works on Ms. B.
Slowly Ms. B half-closes her eyes and she gets this big, mooney grin over her face that says, “Ooh, this feels so good…” as they finish the segment. Amen!
Joseph and I drove home, laughing nonstop, fully understanding why W.C.Fields refused to do anything in public with small children and animals.