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With credits including Game Of Thrones, Harry Potter and 101 Dalmatians, Julie Tottman is one of the world’s greatest movie animal trainers.
And his career is entirely down to a Yorkshire terrier rescued from a cruel puppy farm.
Julie, 49, has now written a book, Will You Take Me Home? about Pickles rescue dog, who she taught to play in the 2003 teen comedy film What A Girl Wants.
And it was Pickles’ triumph over adversity that prompted Julie to use rescue animals as her career took off. What A Girl Wants was Julie’s first gig in charge of the Birds & Animals UK training company – and she had to get it right.
In her book, she recalls, “I had worked for Hollywood coach Gary Gero for the past few years, but now I retired on my own. It was a chance to prove myself.
What A Girl Wants tells the story of a rebellious American girl, played by Amanda Bynes, who discovers that her long lost father is an aristocratic British politician, played by Colin Firth. A Yorkshire Terrier was needed as Princess Charlotte’s pocket dog, played by Sylvia Syms.
Passionate about animal welfare, Julie ideally wanted to use a rescue dog. She explains, “My first child dog was a rescue and I wanted to carry on that legacy.
“I’ve always tried to use rescue dogs in the movies because every animal deserves a second chance. These animals are dumped after years of cruelty and neglect, and I know I can give them the good life. they so desperately deserve. “
But with less than four months to find a dog and get it ready for the movie, Julie wasn’t sure she could use a rescue. Then she came across a report about a raid on a puppy farm in Swansea – and learned that one of the dogs rescued was a Yorkie.
Tragically, the rescued dogs had been kept in appalling conditions – crammed into pens and surrounded by their own filth. Puppy breeders exploit bitches for profit – regardless of their health record. Julie says, “The Kennel Club recommends that dogs only have four litters in their life and most vets advise resting mothers between cycles.
It was fate
“But in puppy farms, dogs are bred whenever they’re in season – every six months – and the only limit to the number of litters they have is how many they can produce before they die.
Even though she knew the Yorkie Puppy Farm was sure to be sick and weak, Julie rushed to the resettlement center in Wales that had taken in the rescued dogs. She recalls, “There was something about the timing that made me check out this dog. I knew she could have health and behavior issues, but my gut told me it was meant to be.
“A good dog for a movie set has a lot of energy, a daring nature and a good appetite. As long as they’re friendly and outgoing, that’s OK. In the past, I had found these attributes in the most unlikely places. Rescue dogs, in particular, can have an extraordinary desire to please.
Sure enough, when Julie came face to face with the little terrier, it was love at first sight – and she decided on the spot that she would take her home. Although the dog was clearly severely abused – her tiny body was covered in mange, her matted hair fell out, and her sagging belly showed that she had been raised and raised – she showed no fear.
Julie said, “She wagged her tail hesitantly. Carefully, I reached behind his ears and gave him a light knock. Her gaze never faltered, even though her weak little body was shaking. I knew immediately that she was special.
Over the next month, Julie nursed her new load – which she named Pickles – to healthy ear, skin and stomach infections. Julie still wasn’t sure if Pickles would recover in time or if she would be able to train her for the film. But as she lavished love and care on the puppy, a special bond was formed.
She says, “It broke my heart how Pickles responded to the smallest acts of kindness. She looked at me like I was her whole world. Within weeks, the little dog was ready to start training – and to Julie’s amazement, the pup learned the tricks she was teaching him in record time.
She says, “It was mind blowing. What she learned in a week usually takes me a month to teach another dog. Over the next eight weeks, Pickles learned everything she would need for the film.
But her progress nearly derailed when she was attacked by a thug Rottweiler as she was walking just a fortnight before filming began. Julie writes: “I couldn’t believe that in an instant all of our months of hard work could be undone.”
Pickles was rushed to the vet and luckily no serious damage had been done. She needed to regain her self-confidence, however, and it was unclear if she would arrive in time for the movie. But Julie said, “I had to trust him. . . and she never let me down.
On the set, Pickles was a star – pulling his tricks with ease. In her first scene, which takes place at the Queen’s garden party, she had to walk through a crowd and then sit down and beg in front of actress Amanda. She nailed it in one.
Julie says, “I just burst into tears. It was hard to believe she was the same dog that I brought home three and a half months ago. You’d think she’d already done ten movie jobs. I really thought my heart might burst with pride.
Blofeld white cat
Pickles went on to star in commercials and other films – including Amazing Grace in 2006, about anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffudd).
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Julie has become the head animal trainer on a range of Hollywood blockbusters – including the 2015 Bond film Specter, for which she trained villainous Blofeld’s White Cat – and TV shows, including the 2019 award-winning drama series Chernobyl. , resulting in infected dogs seen roaming the nuclear. disaster area.
Julie, who lives in Tring, Herts, with her partner Glenn, 50, a pub owner, and her ten-year-old son Luca, works primarily at Pinewood Studios in Bucks and Shepperton Studios in Surrey, and as well as dogs, she trained cats. , horses, pigs, goats, owls – and even rats.
She says, “Pickles inspired me to keep my faith with Rescue Animals and has proven that no matter how rough starts in life, with the right amount of love, some dogs can do it all.”
- Will you take me home? is published by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, and is available now for £ 7.99.
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