Refinery29 and VCA partnered to launch an adorable new comedic series called Pet Friendly. Directed by comedian and pet adoption activist Whitney Cummings, each episode explores the awkward, hilarious, and heartwarming stories of rescued pets, their owners, and one charming VCA veterinarian, Dr. Sally.
The animals in each episode are actual rescue pets, adopted and trained by Benay’s Birds and Animal Rentals. In honor of the series premiere, Refinery29 launched a #PetFriendly GIF collection of adorable Instagram-worthy cats and dogs who are all adoptees of Benay Karp, one of Hollywood’s most successful animal trainers. The stars of Pet Friendly, Chico (Episode 1, “Pepper”), Emmit (Episode 2, “Rocky”), and Andy’s Cat Team (Episode 3, “Tonya”) are ready to flood the feed and Instagram Stories.
We also spoke with Benay to find out what being a Hollywood dog trainer entails. Warning, this interview may spark desire to run to your nearest shelter and pet all the pups. Read her fascinating celeb-clad journey below
Refinery29: How did you become a Hollywood animal trainer?
Benay Karp: “I had grown up with loving animals. One of my first jobs was working with someone who trained birds. He taught me some key skills, and from there I went into animal training. Since birds are niche, I was having a difficult time getting enough work to pay bills. So, I started to focus on my initial love, which is pulling dogs out of shelters, training them, and putting them in homes. I make them actors and more marketable to be placed with families, with the understanding that I can use them when we have jobs.”
How many animals do you have at home and on your ranch?
“At my house on a typical day I have four dogs and two cats that live in the house with me — mostly in my bed! On my ranch I have raccoons, squirrels, possums, and birds. My goal is to have large enclosures for them without small cages.”
What are some noteworthy or exciting projects you've worked on?
“Well, over 35 years there’s a lot! I supplied all the animals on Friends and Grace and Frankie. In one episode of Grace and Frankie, we had little pigs trained to nudge Jane Fonda's butt when she was laying on the floor with Lily [Tomlin]. Jane is so petite, our piggies lifted her off the floor. Being the absolute pro, Jane came prepared and had her butt padded!
“I also worked on an advertisement with George Clooney, and my little bird Billy fell in love with him. Billy's job was to fly to George's shoulder and look at George while he spoke to him. After each take, I would go to pick up Billy, and he would run to the other shoulder. Back and forth, back and forth. He did not want to leave George!”
Can you tell us about how you prepped the furry stars of Pet Friendly for filming? Especially curious about Pepper's sneeze!
“So Chico (Pepper) learned so quickly! All he really needed was a type of positive reaction to a motion, and then he repeated it. A friend and fellow trainer saw he was offering the infamous sneeze as a behavior. She started working to reward that behavior and saw that he was able to sneeze on command relatively quickly. So when we worked with VCA, we sent a list of quirky ‘instagrammable’ behaviors that would fit with the script, and they loved the sneeze.”
What is Emmit’s (Rocky adoption story? )
“When I first saw Emmit, he was in such terrible condition that I don’t even know that he made it out to be offered to the public. I was at the shelter looking at a different dog. At shelters, the day the dogs are available are sometimes the day they could be euthanized, but I didn’t want to risk the dog being euthanized. There was a line up at the shelter, and I don’t know why, but as I was running by there was a dog in the back corner of the rolling cages and as I went by he caught my eye. On that moment on that day, he caught my eye. I stopped and looked. He was sad, shaking, and had a broken leg.
“He was the last dog I would think to adopt for training. I usually look for a dog that’s young, vibrant, has an interest in being social, and the ability to be placed. And I found out he was about to be euthanized 15 minutes later. So I took him! I don’t know exactly what I was thinking other than I need to save him, even though he wasn’t the best candidate for training. When he was able to put weight on his foot we had him shaved, and when he came back I thought he was the wrong dog! He wasn’t old at all. He was energetic and turned out to actually be really young!”