Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Because I'm a pushover for a good pit bull story...

Abused Pottsville pit bull lands a role in ‘Oliver!’

BY ANDREW STAUB
TIMES • shamrock writer
astaub@citizensvoice.com

KINGSTON — The injuries that once made potential adopters cringe vaulted a dog named Thanos into local stardom Monday.
Thanos, a purebred 4-year-old pit bull from Pottsville, landed the role of villain Bill Sykes’ dog in the Performing Arts Institute’s production of “Oliver!”, outshining eight other tailed thespians in auditions held at the Wyoming Seminary Upper School campus on North Sprague Avenue on Monday.

The play will be presented at 8 p.m. Aug. 2 and 3 at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre.

From the moment director Bill Roudebush saw Thanos, he knew the dark brown dog that still bears the scars of past abuse fit the character perfectly. “It wasn’t even close,” Roudebush said. “From the minute he walked on campus, he had the part.” Because the actor who plays Sykes, 16-year-old Mike Radzwilla, Hanover Township, harbors a certain uneasiness around dogs, Roudebush needed to find a dog that looked the part of a ruffian junkyard canine but still had a sweet temperament.

Thanos proved he was a softy, licking those who petted him and gingerly taking treats or cheese from their hands. The lone sign of animosity came when Thanos uttered a soft growl when an approaching cameraman accidentally startled him. But at first glance, Thanos appears to be a dog suited to guard Alcatraz. Scars still linger where past owners lopped off the tips of his ears when he was a puppy and stemmed the bleeding from the infected wounds with fishing line, said Amy Eckert, of Pottsville, Thanos’ owner.

Before he was rescued from a cramped rabbit hutch four years ago and taken to the Hillside Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Pottsville, Eckert believes Thanos’ previous owners were breeding him to fight other dogs. The tips of his ears were cut off “to make him look meaner,” said Eckert, who works as a cruelty officer and owns Brierwood Boarding Kennels and Cattery in Pottsville. Those scars, Eckert said, made potential adopters pass by Thanos. Even now when other people pass Eckert and Thanos on the street, they avoid the dog, she said. “People wanted nothing to do with him,” Eckert said. But that wasn’t the case Monday, as people milled about Thanos; other dogs that Thanos had beaten even walked up to give him a good sniff or two.

“When I first saw him,” Radzwilla said, “I was kind of shaky toward him because he looks intimidating.” But after a few minutes with Thanos, Radzwilla looked comfortable feeding Thanos treats and scratching behind his ears.

Earlier in his life, Thanos was fearful of people touching his ears, but after training he has since learned that most people don’t want to hurt him, Eckert said. Now, Thanos spends time at SPCA events and nursing homes, working as a therapy dog. A last-minute decision brought Thanos to Kingston. Originally, Eckert just wanted to watch the auditions, but her friend, Sandee Ford of Mountaintop, convinced her to bring Thanos along. The rest was some Hollywood magic in Kingston.

As Thanos enjoyed the limelight — his new entourage pampering him like a star with a paw print on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — Ford couldn’t help but comment that Thanos’ life has certainly shifted for the better. “This is a fitting ending,” she said. Eckert looked on, as more bystanders indulged Thanos with treats. “Now,” Eckert said, “he’ll be a star.”

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