COLUMNIST

Meet Abby, the Britney Spears of doggie models

Sharon Kennedy Wynne and Abby, her “daughter.”

John Pendygraft/tbt*

Sharon Kennedy Wynne and Abby, her “daughter.”

Now I know how Britney Spears' handlers feel when Brit just doesn't feel like cooperating, refusing to give the camera all she's got for every take.

That's my puppy on the cover of tbt* and this Web page. Isn't she cute?

If only getting that photo hadn't been such an ordeal.

Our story whisperer, Out There editor Jay Cridlin, wanted a dog to serve as a cover model for tbt*'s annual pet issue, a collection of stories on pet trends, gadgets, etiquette and how pets affect our lives and relationships.

Enter Abby, my birthday present in October, who was still leaving us, um, gifts until just a few weeks ago in our never-ending quest to house-train a small dog.

She's an 8-month-old puggle — part pug, part beagle, part yuppie trend. She's one of those designer mixes, like the Labradoodle or a Jack-a-poo, that we got from a lovely couple who still miss her but ran out of room in their small condo.

Like any stage mom, I can bore you to tears with tales of my talented charge, how she's so much prettier than all those other bitches. But the truth is, my smile faded when I heard about our previous pet-cover disasters.

Getting a dog to smile for the camera is not easy. They wander out of the shot or turn their heads at the wrong moment.

Since one of our lead stories is on training, we thought it would be cute to have a dog chewing on a TV remote or a high heel. I e-mailed Steve Pica, a dog trainer, for tips.

He said to smear something smelly, like salami, all over the item to get the dog to concentrate on it. And have a squeaky toy on hand to squeak just as you want your pooch to look up at the camera.

We met up with photographer John Pendygraft bearing a red high-heeled shoe and a bag of hot dogs. How ironic: the story deals with using food to teach a dog to behave, and here I was using it to teach her to chew a shoe.

John lay on the floor on his belly, his camera ready to shoot, and Abby tore into the hotdog-flavored shoe ... but her butt was facing the camera. I finally learned to lead her to the correct spot and sit, facing the camera, before setting down the shoe just as John snapped away.

He wanted to get her in mid-chew, looking up at him with those hound-dog eyes. Too bad I forgot the squeak toy Pica recommended. So once she started gnawing, I'd call "Abby!" and she'd not only look at me, she'd coming running right out of the shot. We repeated this routine about two dozen times.

Once, John got up to pop the memory card into his computer. I was looking over his shoulder, anxious for a good picture, when I noticed Abby was back on the photo set, chewing the shoe in the exact perfect spot where we needed her. John moved back in place to get a quick shot, but Abby just as quickly trotted out of range.

I couldn't help but cringe, thinking how John has traveled through Middle East war zones and photographed powerful images of children in Gaza. And I can't get my stupid puppy to chew a shoe for him on cue.

I sat her in place near the thoroughly smeared shoe. And she just sat there. No interest. She was either full or ready for the next course. The story about Britney smearing a designer gown with her greasy hands during an OK! magazine shoot flashed through my head.

By the end of the hour, we finally had the image you see, which turned out to be one John liked from the middle of the shoot. She looks thoroughly ashamed of herself next to the gnawed shoe.

Now John can go back to shooting war zones and other more cooperative subjects.

— wynne@tampabay.com

Meet Abby, the Britney Spears of doggie models 04/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 10:06am]

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