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BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA

Casting Canines
Filmmakers called on head trainer/animal coordinator Mike Alexander ("Eight Below”) of Birds & Animals Unlimited for his ability to get organic and real performances from his furry and feathered actors.

For the specific leading character dogs, filmmakers wanted to cast fresh faces. Alexander and his team spent months networking to find the special stars and one of the biggest resources proved to be shelters. In fact, the Chihuahua tapped for head hound Papi was rescued from a shelter. Alexander says it was his big ears and great expression that drew the trainer and the filmmakers to the part-Chihuahua, part-mutt mix. "We saw his picture online and called the shelter. They said he'd been there a while.” Alexander immediately drove to the shelter, but it had already closed for the day. "We'd been looking for a dog like that for so long, I was ready to spend the night in the parking lot.” Fortunately, Alexander was able to adopt "Rusco” on the spot the following morning. Rusco has since found a permanent home at his trainer's seven acre ranch outside of L.A.

Says producer John Jacobs, "People can get very caught up in whether a dog is purebred and it really doesn't matter. A great dog is a great dog. The trainers could train the dogs found in rescues, and within six months, these dogs were performing like superstars. It really goes to show if a dog is given a good home he can be the best dog in the world.”

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua” features a truly international cast of dogs and a variety of breeds—Dobermans, German Shepherds, Chihuahuas, Poodles, Pugs, Chinese Cresteds, a French Bulldog, a St. Bernard, a Labrador, a Border Terrier, a Dachshund, a Boston Terrier, a Yorkie, a Beagle, a Dalmatian, a Border Collie, a Pomeranian, a Bichon and a Pekingese. Some were found at rescues in Los Angeles and Mexico—some were seasoned Hollywood dogs. Half of them understand Spanish, half of them understand English.

In addition to more than 200 dogs, the film features appearances by many different types of animals, including snakes, pigeons, coyotes and a mountain lion.

Director Gosnell says he recognizes the value in working with real animals. "What really impresses me most about the animals is the soul behind their eyes. In the CGI world your characters can do amazing things, but there's never that same soul. I think that's the most special thing about working with real animals—even if they're just sitting there, there's a soul back there and you can really feel it.”

Alexander admits he was concerned when he first read the script. "It's one of the best animal scripts I've read in a long time, but it's incredibly bold. Every time I would turn the page, I would think to myself, ‘Well this has gotta be the hardest gag in this movie.' And then the next page, ‘Oh well, this is the hardest gag in this movie'—on and on, all the way to the end.”

Alexander led a multi-national team that at times swelled to more than 60 trainers to prepare and care for the animals that appear in the movie. There were 11 character teams—look-a-like animals and two trainers—to portray the main animal characters in the film. Additionally, there were other large canine groups trained to play the Mexican street dogs, the Chihuahua Nation dogs, the Beverly Hills spa dogs, and the Police Academy dogs, as well as the non canine animals.

Alexander drew upon the best animal-training talent in the world to work on the project, assembling handlers from Southern California, Florida, Montana, New Jersey, Virginia and Nevada, as well as Canada and Mexico.

Trainers used repetition and positive reinforcement techniques, a tactic that impressed filmmakers. "It's incredible to watch Mike and his crew work,” says producer John Jacobs. "They have a way of encouraging dogs so

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