Butters the Beagle is all about fun and friends, and he’s quite the showman, too. No matter the venue — dog show, TV shoot, or film set — the unflappable Grand Champion is right at home.
Last February, Butters and his owner, Robert Day, took a whirlwind, two-day, cross-country car trip from their home in Aurora, Colo., to New York City for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The 3-year-old hound won an Award of Merit at the event, despite meeting his professional handler, Loran Morgan of West Hollywood, Calif., for the first time the night before the competition.
While others were entered in the famous show to make a name for themselves, Robert and Butters came to have fun, says Meredith Day, the owner’s mother and Butters’ trainer for film and TV projects. But they had plenty of frantic moments before the festivities began.
“We were ticketed for an early Saturday red-eye from Denver to New York,” says Meredith. “When we arrived at the airport it was snowing so hard, we could barely see the airport shuttle in the parking lot.”
The airline refused to take Butters because his crate was too large for the cabin, and it was too cold to put him in cargo. “Robert and I were in disbelief. We just stood and looked at each other, dumbfounded,” she recalls. “Robert said, ‘Mom, get on the plane, I’ll drive Butters to New York.'”
That wasn’t the end of their day’s frustrations. After Meredith and passengers boarded, a mechanical issue kept the plane sitting on the tarmac until it was repaired several hours later. Meanwhile, her son and Butters napped from 2-to-8 a.m., then left Denver in a blizzard. Robert could barely see the road throughout much of the long drive.
When they finally arrived at the hotel, the handler, Morgan, immediately met them for a get-acquainted session with the plucky 15-inch Beagle he’d be ushering around the ring for the first time the following day. Westminster was Butters’ introduction to the benched-show world.
Butters’ Cheering Section
On the first day of the show, “we found the Beagle area, set up our grooming table, threw a towel over it, and Butters was open for business,” Meredith says. “He loves people, and everyone asked if they could pet him. Butters set up his own meet-and-greet, never missing a beat.”
Butters’ New Hampshire breeder, Cindy Williams, who was watching at home on television, wondered who all those people were cheering for Butters. “I just laughed and told her they were his new best friends,” says Meredith.
While Butters loves other canine sports, such as agility and barn hunt, he has another life, too, in film and TV. Meredith, who works in the film industry, has taught Butters to respond to silent commands, which is key to performing on film.
“When working with a dog on a film project, the handler/trainer must be positioned out of the frame,” Meredith explains. “Most dogs are treat-oriented, and if trained properly they learn quickly what the hand and body signals mean. Though dogs can be trained at any age, if you want a true superstar, you must start at a young age. The more tricks they can perform, the more film or commercial work they will get. Butters learned silent commands before he was one year old.
“When a dog is hired to work on a set, many times things don’t go according to plan. For instance, sometimes you’re hired for a couple of hours, but suddenly production falls behind to the point that the dog’s appearance on the set can be delayed as much as a couple of days.”
That’s when the canine needs to be resilient, patient, and fun-loving, all traits Butters possesses. “He can read my body language and Robert’s clearly, so we must go with the flow, as well,” Meredith says.
Beagle Star Power
Butters will be appearing in a film with the working title, “Three Women,” where he plays a part that takes place during three generations — set in 1918, 1940, and 1980. The production centers on three related women pioneers: an educator; a mountain climber, pilot, spy, and rocket scientist; and an inventor and writer.
“It’s in preproduction,” says Meredith, “which means, who knows if it will get to the screen? If it does, it will be an inspiring Beagle-based story.”
Meredith’s training techniques for film sometimes conflict with Robert’s ring regimen. When the owner points at Butters, the dog may think Robert wants him to sit (the silent sit command for film), instead of showcase his gait and conformation for the judge.
In addition to his showbiz experience, Butters’ name attracts attention. When Robert purchased him as a puppy, he called him “Buddy,” but soon discovered that many people choose that name for their dog. He opted to change it to “Butters” after his favorite “South Park” character, Leopold “Butters” Stotch.
“The name is certainly a talking point,” says Meredith, “and it’s a name you don’t soon forget.”