by Joe Ozier
Local author Joe Ozier shares about his dog Shep and the musical he wrote about him. This is a three part series. Enjoy part 3 and check out part 1 from November, and check out Part 2 from December. Check out our interview with Joe about his children’s book Shea’s Lounge.
Unfortunately, Shep was becoming a wanderer, and by that I mean he followed his nose and eyes in any and all directions. Everything was new to him and sometimes edible too. My tag line for him was, “The world is his buffet.” I would have to pry his nose off a piece of gum or a candy wrapper or call him several times before having to drag him away from, or out, of my neighbors’ backyards. I shared my office with others, and Shep wandered between the various areas at my workplace, checking out the people, oblivious to my calls for his return.
He was so focused and intent, that even when I was only a few feet away and touched him to get his attention, he jumped and turned around in fright. It reminded me of the time my mom scared me to death when she tapped me on my shoulder while I was singing at the top of my lungs to a Led Zeppelin song with my headphones on.
From the day I rescued him to the day I watched him take his last breath, he experienced everything as if it was the very first time. He lived over 13 years, much more than I had hoped to match for his 3½ years tied up. He really did “stop and smell the roses” his entire life. I jokingly introduced him to people as Shep the Wander Dog, and when people repeated it back, they would say, Shep the Wonder Dog, so that became his name and his legacy.
With overwhelming love and a sense of poetic justice, I witnessed the transformation of that angry, pathetic and neglected dog from Madera, California into a confident and obedient, theatrically-trained Shep, the Wonder Dog!
Two years after his rescue, I packed Shep into my fully-loaded Forerunner and started a new life for us in Sarasota, Florida, nearly 2,600 miles away from Fresno. I had always been interested in theater and so on my first day there, I auditioned for a part in a musical titled Merrily We Roll Along, and was cast in several roles. From that point on, I began performing in local community theaters. In my second show, Carnival, the director asked the cast if any of us had a dog that could perform tricks. I quickly answered, “Yes.” (My dad taught me to say yes first and then figure out later how you were going to do whatever you had said “yes” to!)I brought Shep to rehearsal and he was a hit with everyone…except the old guy who was the clown. The 30-plus kids and adults inundated Shep with constant petting, kind words and treats from the moment he arrived. He was supposed to be teamed up and work with the main clown of the show, but Shep always growled menacingly at him. The clown was very vocal about not wanting to work with Shep either, so the director asked me if I would work with him as his dog trainer and perform with him in the show. Interesting side note: Before the end of that show’s three week run, the director fired that Clown (no one usually ever gets let go from a show during the run). The director told me that he felt Shep must have known something early on about the man’s true character. The director told me that Shep could be in any show he was directing.
As for the rest of the cast, once they found out about Shep’s horrible background, I had to demand that they stop bringing him goodies, because they were buying him treats and chew toys by the bag-full, and feeding him during the hours of rehearsals. It was distracting Shep from my training, and was putting pounds on him. As they reluctantly stopped, he began begging for treats and quickly learned to simply go around the middle man (me) and directly into their bags. He was becoming quite the nuisance!
I frequently laughed aloud and silently cried tears of joy over Shep’s continued good fortune. The thought of how far he had come frequently overwhelmed me. Sometime later, I was completing a run of On Golden Pond at the Venice Little Theater and I brought Shep with me to the show’s archival photo shoot. A very kind lady saw me taking him through the tricks that he had learned for Carnival as I waited for my turn to be photographed. She said that she was the stage manager for an upcoming show called Sugar Babies, and she thought Shep and I would be perfect as an additional act in it. She arranged an audition with the director and Shep performed for him and the stage manager perfectly. That director told me that we would be in the show on one condition: that Shep learn some new tricks as the director saw fit. Again, I said “yes” without hesitation and once again, I became Shep’s personal trainer.
One of the new tricks was to have Shep take a woman’s bra on cue and sprint across the stage while another female cast member ran across the stage after him yelling, “Come back here with my bra!” I decided that I needed another practice stage where I could begin teaching Shep his series of new tricks, entrances and exits etc. for that show and any others, so I built a covered 10’ x 16’ stage of my own in my backyard, with lights, where I could work with him at any time. Shep was now building his resume and becoming an actor in his own right. He received great reviews for his 20+ performances in Sugar Babies. He was in four productions and has probably been seen by nearly 40,000 people.
I am so very proud to think about how far he came, and I know I am very fortunate to have had him in my life for as long as I did. I believe that angels brought us together, and so I kept writing the story of his life in the form of a musical called, of course, Shep the Musical: an old fashioned love story about dogs and their people. A guiding angel also made it into my developing story. Everyone who hears this true story is happy for Shep. They say that I did a wonderful thing by saving him, but I think that it’s actually the other way around. I think in the end, Shep saved me, and so I’m the lucky one.
I’m still hoping that one day, Shep the Musical gets its debut and a long-awaited, fully-staged, long-running production. But until then I’ll have to settle for the shorter version I wrote which my long-time friend, Sue Janecek, produced for the United Way’s Toys for Tots fundraiser held at the Warnor’s Theater on Nov 10, 2011; it was titled, Shep’s Christmas Wish. We raised thousands of dollars to buy Christmas toys for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be getting gifts. Please take notice that Shep the Wonder Dog is still paying it forward to the world!
Check out more pet related short stories and articles in our pets section.