Bill Berloni knows dogs.
The trainer of pooches — and a wide assortment of animals for Broadway, film and TV — got his start when he was instructed to go to the pound to find a dog that could play Sandy, the faithful companion to the title character in the musical Annie, which was making its world premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam in 1976.
That set the Haddam resident on his career path training animals for shows. He received a special Tony Award for his work and, on May 19, will be honored with an award from New York’s Drama League. More locally, he and his four-legged friends will be part of Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Playing with Dogs concert at The Bushnell in Hartford May 20.
Berloni is also an advocate of rescue dogs and for steering folks to animal shelters when they’re thinking about getting a pet.
But for many, such a visit can be intimidating, confusing or even wrong-headed.
So we asked Berloni what tips he could share to help guide people in making the right choice for them.
- Do your homework. “You may want a husky because you had one as a kid, but if you live in an apartment and work 10 hours a day, it won’t work out.” So learn about the dogs by going on the internet and doing some serious research on the animals that are available at the shelter.
- Profile yourself. Think of it as “Canine Mingle,” says Berloni. “If we match the right dog with the right person, it will be a seamless match and you’ll both live happily ever after. But be realistic about what your abilities are. Are you an active person or inactive? Do you want short or long hair? If you are not in a place to raise an infant child, you’re not in a place to raise a puppy.”
- Meet the dog in person. This sounds obvious, but Berloni says there are organizations “where you give them your credit card and for $350 you go pick the animal up in a parking lot somewhere in Connecticut without ever having seen the animal in person.” So trust the good folks at the nonprofit shelters to guide you, he says.
- Look for a mixed breed with a balanced temperament. “When you go to a shelter — which is a stressful environment for animals — there are three types of dogs. Those who are not dealing with it well and who are loud and agitated. Then there are dogs who deal with stress by being introverted and scared. Chances are it will sustain those personalities. Look for the dog in the middle, an animal who comes out who is not crazy-friendly and seems to simply say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ That kind of dog will blossom when you get it home.”
- Watch your doggie “hello.” That moment when you first meet the dog is important, he says. “When the dog is brought to you, don’t grab it immediately.” The animal is likely to have been caged for a long period, he says, and a pair of clutching hands and your enthusiastic voice will frighten the animal. “Stick your hand out, let it sniff you, let it be the one to come to you. Don’t have the first meeting be all about your needs. The way we show love and affection isn’t always the way dogs understand it.”
- Hit the bricks. “When you’re at the shelter, take the dog for a walk so you can see how it deals with the outside — and the counselor can see how you handle the dog, too. Any shelter that doesn’t have the time to do that should be a red flag.”
- Avoid no-return places. “Adopt from a shelter that will take the dog back if it doesn’t work out. Some animal welfare groups get funding for every dog they adopt out, so if a dog is returned, they don’t get the money. So they’re driven more toward the numbers for funding than they are for finding the right fit. A reputable shelter will agree to take the dog back — so ask.”
- Follow your head, not your heart. “Don’t adopt a dog out of guilt because it was abused. We want to find the dog the right parent, not just any parent.”
- Adopt on a Friday. “That way you have the weekend to start showing your dog its food, bed and bathroom. But be sure to come and go throughout the day. You don’t want the dog to think you’re going to be with it 24 hours a day and come Monday, think, ‘Where are you?’”
- Be patient. “This is a till-death-do-us-part relationship. Walking into a shelter and thinking you’re going to find the perfect dog is like walking into a coffee shop in Middletown and thinking you’re going to find your forever love match. If it’s not today, it’ll be another day.”