By Mickey Kramer
Bernadette Peters is one accomplished lady. Aside from having a legendary career on both stage (seven Tony nominations, including two wins) and screen, she has spent much of her life caring for and promoting homeless animals. She recently hosted Broadway Barks 10 with Mary Tyler Moore on July 12. The ASPCA and Pedigree-sponsored adopt-a-thon places homeless animals with loving families and features Broadway’s hottest stars. Peters chatted with Tails about her love of shelter animals, the event’s 10th anniversary, and her new book, appropriately titled Broadway Barks.
Did you grow up with pets?
I grew up with a dog named Suzy. After begging my parents for a dog, we went to Bideawee and got what we thought might be a small dog. She was a puppy then. She grew up to be some kind of small Golden Retriever and a big part of the family. We had many happy years with Suzy.
Tell us about your current pets.
I now have two dogs, Stella and Kramer. Stella is a Pit Bull, and contrary to some people’s perception of Pit Bulls, they are the most loving dogs. They will be lapdogs if you let them! They are happiest when they can lean up against you or on top of you. Any dog can be trained to be mean and aggressive if they think that’s what will please their [person]. Right now Pit Bulls are in fashion for the guys that want to look tough, [but] years ago, people used to be afraid of German Shepherds and Doberman Pinchers when they were the tough guys’ fashionable dog.
Kramer is a shaggy Disney dog [who] I cut like Tramp from Lady and the Tramp. He is goofy and reserved at the same time. He reminds me of Kevin Kline. My new book is about him. My next book will be about Stella.
Tell us about the genesis of Broadway Barks.
About l0 years ago, after my dog died, we visited a shelter in New York City. I couldn’t believe the number of dogs there … Neapolitan Mastiffs, Cocker Spaniels, mixed mutts, Poodles—all sorts, in the shelter waiting … to either get out or to be put to sleep because of lack of room. I thought someone needs to give this problem attention, so I called my friend Mary Tyler Moore, who I knew cared about animals as much as I did, and we talked and talked.
Broadway Barks started when the Broadway show I was starring in at the time, Annie Get Your Gun, won an Easter Bonnet Competition for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids for raising the most money. My assistant, Patty [Saccente], and the stage manager, Richard Hester, said, “What else can we do?”… I said, “What about dogs?” I called Mary, and the rest is history. Our adopt-a-thon in Shubert Alley was the first time many of the shelters in New York worked together to try to help animals get good homes, and it continues to this day.
What is the ultimate goal?
Our main goal is to make New York a no-kill city as San Francisco has become. Euthanasia is down, but we have to do more to promote spaying and neutering of our dogs and to enlighten people about the beauty of adoption.
Companion animals are here to make our lives better. They do it in so many ways. They help lower blood pressure. If there is a dog in a household with a baby, that child is less likely to develop allergies later in life. Pets also give older people companionship and a reason to get up in the morning … and shy children often come out of their shell to communicate with a dog.
Tell us about your new book.
It’s called Broadway Barks. It’s about a dog found in the park [who] follows a lady (who suspiciously looks like me) to Broadway’s famous Shubert Alley and to the Broadway Barks event and tries to get adopted.
He goes up on stage and starts to sing, but people laugh at him … all they hear is barking. Then he dances, and they laugh even harder … all they see is jumping. No one wants him. He gets pulled off the stage, but then a little girl comes up to him and says, “I loved your singing, and I loved your dancing. Would you like to come home with me?” At his new house he gets a dinner and a bath and a belly rub, and the little girl, whose name is Isabel, sings him to sleep.
The song she sings is one I wrote on a plane unexpectedly on a return trip home from a concert. All at once, the music and lyrics all came together. I call it my little miracle. All of my profits from the book will go to helping shelter animals. It is so very gratifying.
For more information, visit BroadwayBarks.com.