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MUST LOVE DOGS

The Dogs
Not a dog owner herself, Sarah is a frequent and willing babysitter for her brother Michael's playful Newfoundland, Mother Teresa, and borrows the sweet-natured bundle of fur for her first date with Jake at the dog park. In contrast to the complications, drama and pretense that characterize adult relationships, Mother Teresa provides only unconditional devotion. 

An uncommon breed, and quite large, Newfoundlands are aptly described by Cusack as "great big, lovable, furry teddy bears.” 

Mother Teresa was played by two female Newfies, Molly and Mabel, selected and trained by renowned animal handler Boone Narr, with head trainer Mark Harden and the team at Boone's Animals for Hollywood, a 33-year industry institution. Although sizeable enough on screen, both dogs were still only puppies, six months old and 80 pounds at the time of production, which is half their potential. Traditionally bred as seafaring rescue dogs, full-grown Newfoundlands will tip the scales at about 150 pounds for females and as much as 165 pounds for males. 

Goldberg, a dog-lover who already had four at home and happily adopted Molly and Mabel when production wrapped, admits that, "the dog in Claire's book wasn't a Newfoundland but I'm crazy for Newfies; they have such sweet natures and their eyes are so expressive.” 

Narr's team located two puppies similar in appearance and began working with them several months prior to filming. "The weak points in one dog's performance will be the strong points for the other,” explains Narr, who grounds his regimen in the belief that individual animals will naturally reveal their own talents and personalities in the process. 

In addition to hitting their marks, sitting, standing up, laying their heads down, speaking, directing their looks, jumping into a lake and swimming on cue, Molly and Mabel had to master the "go-with,” in some cases the most difficult exercise of all, wherein a animal must focus its attention onto an actor as if it were that person's pet, while appearing unaware of the trainer who is providing the cues off-camera. 

The trainers' skill at the "go-with” was tested in the film's dog park scene, which matched extras with 26 trained dogs of various breeds who had, understandably, a tough time coping with all the intriguing new scents and sights in the Long Beach public park. "Fortunately, what Gary wanted was a kind of natural, controlled chaos,” Narr says, "so it worked out well.”

In reference to the industry adage about actors wary of working with dogs or children, he acknowledges that, "the way actors interact with an animal, no matter how well trained, can really make or break a scene. These guys have been great. They spend their own time working with us and there's nothing they won't do to make the situation work for the dog. Diane will give commands and reward the dog if we can't get there in time. She doesn't care about getting slobber on her. She doesn't care about getting her hands dirty.”

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