Good News

Former shelter dog cast in local production of 'Annie'

The canine actor playing Sandy has a similarly hard-knock story, making the theme even more heartwarming.

Olaf the dog on set with the actress who plays Annie in a local production.
Muskegon Catholic Central Theater
SMS

In the musical "Annie," an orphan girl rescues Sandy, a lovable stray that no one else wants.

In an upcoming production of "Annie," the canine actor playing Sandy has a similarly hard-knock story, making the theme even more heartwarming. A Pyrenees mix named Olaf portrays Sandy in “Annie” at the Muskegon Catholic Central Theater in Muskegon, Michigan. Before making his theatrical debut, Olaf was also a dog that no one wanted.

Jodi Jarvis-Therrian, a dog trainer with Dog Blessed, rescued Olaf about four years ago after he was transported from an overcrowded shelter in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. She had just lost her beloved dog, Odin, and wasn’t sure if she was ready to adopt another. But she agreed to foster Olaf.

"He just had that look, like 'Please get me out of here,'" she says. "And I have a thing for white, fluffy dogs."

Courtesy of Jodi Jarvis-Therrian

When he arrived, Olaf was heartworm positive, very timid and frightened by even the simplest commands. When she’d give the “sit” command, Olaf would sit, but he would cower like he was hurt. Jarvis-Therrian guessed that a prior owner was impatient with him and yelled a lot.

So, in her lighter, positive tone, she gave the usual commands in Pig Latin instead. Rather than saying “sit,” she might say, “it-say” — a term that didn’t have negative connotations for Olaf. The technique worked beautifully. Soon enough, he’d learned many commands.

“I believe in giving dogs purpose and fun and jobs,” she says. “And he is so eager to work now. It can help a dog’s confidence soar, and it did with him.”

She brings Olaf with her everywhere, including her community training classes, where he is a big help with the puppies. “During puppy social time, if one is scared, I’ll take him to the side and just let him hang out with Olaf. He makes himself kind of small and rolls over on his back."

Part of Jarvis-Therrian’s dog training work involves certifying animal actors, and Olaf has his black card certification. “I post all the fun acting stuff Olaf does [on social media],” Jarvis-Therrian says. And that’s how “Annie’s” musical director, Jacqui Robinson, got word about Olaf.

Courtesy of Jodi Jarvis-Therrian

Jarvis-Therrian brought Olaf in to meet Lila Offman, the 13-year-old who plays Annie.

“Olaf is so lovable, kind and fluffy,” Lila says of her canine costar. “And he is a lot of fun!”

The feeling was mutual, as Olaf relishes attention from children.

“I thought, as long as he’s good with it, I’m good with it,” Jarvis-Therrian says. “I want him to have a happy life. His life span may be shorter because of his heart, but I want every moment to just be amazing and fun.”

Olaf is a fantastic mimic, following body language. He watches Lila and follows what she does. When Lila spins, he spins. And he’s not disturbed by the loud music.

“On the first day, it was all kind of Greek to us, but Olaf was just happy and silly,” Jarvis-Therrian says. “Lila put her little headset on, and they played the music, and she started singing. And he ended up putting his head down on her lap and just flopping over! And it was like, ‘Oh, he’s going to be so good with that!'”

Meanwhile, Robinson, the musical director, couldn’t be happier to have this charming rescue dog in her cast. “We have lucked out having both Jodi and Olaf,” she says.  “They are such a blessing to have involved in our production!”

Courtesy of Jodi Jarvis-Therrian

You can watch Jarvis-Therrian discuss Olaf’s starring role at MuskegonChannel.com. And if you live nearby, you can still buy tickets to see Olaf and Lila perform in “Annie” on March 22 at 7 p.m. and March 23 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

This story originally appeared on Simplemost.