From the Shelter to the Stage: Bill Berloni's Hollywood Tail

He’s been called the modern-day Dr. Doolittle. Berlin native Bill Berloni is known around the world for turning shelter pets into stars.

“For the last 40 years I’ve been rescuing animals and turning them into Broadway, stage and TV stars,” said Berloni.

His career highlights include 27 Broadway shows, major motion pictures, even a Tony award – the only animal trainer to receive such an honor. And it all started with one scruffy little shelter dog.

The year was 1976. Berloni, a 19-year-old aspiring actor, was working as an apprentice building sets at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

“They were doing this new play that needed a dog,” Berloni explained. “But they couldn’t afford to bring in a professional trainer from New York.”

That “new play” was an unknown show called “Annie.” A producer dangled the promise of a speaking role onstage if Berloni could find and train a pooch for the job for free. Eager to find his big break, Berloni accepted the challenge. He eventually found the original “Sandy” at Connecticut Humane Society in Newington. The dog had been abused and was days away from being euthanized. Little did Berloni know, saving that dog’s life would change the course of his own.

“That rescue dog changed my life because six months later, Annie opened on Broadway, became an international success and at the age of 20 I became a world famous animal trainer,” said Berloni.

Today, it’s hardly a hard knock life at the Berloni homestead on the shoreline of Connecticut, a virtual paradise for the nearly 50 animal actors who call it home.

“When we adopt them we don’t just use them for a project and get rid of them – we give them a forever home,” said Berloni.

He takes care of each animal with his wife and daughter along with three paid staff members. The animals are meticulously well-cared for and loved, and a stroll around the property quickly yields celebrity animal sightings: The Bumpus Hounds from A Christmas Story, Toto from NBC’s The Wiz, Bruiser form Legally Blonde. Every single one of Berloni’s animal actors is a rescue. Over the past four decades, he’s saved the lives of close to 200 shelter pets.

“They know that you’ve rescued them, so when you bring home a rescue pet they’re so grateful,” he said.

Perhaps the most amazing part of Berloni’s success – he’s never even cracked a book on dog training, he says. Instead, he taught himself, using only positive reinforcement along with the unspoken magic he learned growing up an only child on a farm, where his animals were his best friends.

“When you treat them with respect, when you treat them with love, you get so much more back.”

We hope you’ll open your heart and your home to see how a rescue pet can change your life on Saturday July 23rd. To find a participating shelter near click here.

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