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MONDAY, August 17, 2009

Stardom Changes Orphaned Dog's Hard Knock Life

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Little orphan Annie went from rags to riches, and a dog playing the role of Sandy in a local production of the Broadway musical has a similar life story. The shelter dog is now shining under the spotlight.

Barney, playing the role of Sandy, performed right on cue on opening night of the musical "Annie" at the Starlight Theater in Balboa Park.

He's the four-legged star of the show, but it hasn't always been glitz and glamour for Barney. In fact, his real-life story began a lot like little orphan Annie's.

Barney was discovered in a local shelter.

"We thought OK, there's a dog in the show and why don't we try to do something a little different and try to rescue a dog and find a home for the dog, and tie that in with the story," "Annie" director and choreographer Dan Mojica said.

It was back in May when the Starlight Theater partnered with the Helen Woodward Animal Center to cast the perfect canine. Rob Kuty of San Diego Pet Training played the role of talent scout, searching not only for star quality, but also for a specific look - a sandy-colored, medium-sized dog.

As fate would have it, he found Barney - a one-year-old terrier-golden retriever mix - at the end of the row. Barney got his big break, and the training began.

Barney was also put into a new home with foster mom Julie Watkins so he could get used to being around people.

"When I first got him he just paced my house back and forth constantly. Now he'll just sit here at my heels and really, really sweet, really mellow," Julie said.

Then came the big meeting between Annie and Sandy. Hanna Rose Kornfeld and Barney hit it off from the start, and Barney worked like a pro, following his newly-learned commands.

Barney's training also included hanging out near the airport.

"Since we are in the flight path of the airport here, the show comes to a standstill every time a plane flies overhead," Mojica said.

"He's good with the stage, he's reacting well to the planes. I think we're going to have a lot of fun and the audience is going to love him," Kornfeld said.

And she was right. After three months of hard work, this shelter dog was transformed into a stage dog.

"I definitely think that it brings more of a connection to Annie and the dog, that by the end of the show and by the end of the run, we'll each find a home," Kornfeld said.

Orphan Annie finds a happy home, but what about Barney? Julie Watkins decided to adopt him. It's affectionately called a "foster failure," because the foster family loves the dog so much they can't give him up. There couldn't be a better ending for Barney.

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