Cats and Dogs is a film that pits longtime rivals of the animal world against each other in a battle for world domination. The film’s inspired casting choices include the very exotic Saluki and the oft-overlooked English sheepdog. The action of the film centers around a fearless team of canines intent on protecting an anti-allergy vaccine from a group of conniving cats. Lou, the film’s hero is an outgoing and adventurous young “Pocket” Beagle who stumbles upon a pivotal battle between cats and dogs. The dogs want to place a seasoned operative in a human home but end up with the naïve Lou instead. Ultimately the ringleaders have no choice but to turn Lou into a secret agent — and fast. Lou is thrilled but soon learns that going undercover is not all that it’s cracked up to be.
A far cry from the curious and active Lou is Butch, a graceful and refined Saluki. Butch is an experienced yet cynical undercover agent. He was not thrilled when told he must become trainer, protector and mentor to a young pup. Soon, though, he became a loyal member of the team and, ultimately, a good friend as well. The less quick-witted Sam, an English sheepdog, plays a secret agent whose dedication makes up for his slow speed and limited powers of observation. With all that facial hair, Sam doesn’t see everything that’s going on, but he does have a very responsive heart.
Making a film in which most of the action involves animals is noted for being extremely difficult. Several animals holding leading roles and dozens more playing bit parts is downright daunting. Still, carried along by their enthusiasm for a brilliant script — in which the animals seem to have all the best lines — the filmmakers decided to take the plunge. They did not take it blindly, however. They sought the best help they could find. Boone Narr has been training animals for film work for over twenty years. Most of the trainers he hired for Cats & Dogs can make similar claims. His assembled years of experience meant the filmmakers could count on getting wonderful performances from their animal actors.
Even for trainers with vast experience, there is no fast, easy way to get an animal to perform. It takes time and a great deal of patience. In the case of Cats & Dogs, it took a full year to find and train the engaging cast. The trainers worked eight hours per day, six days per week, for six months, for a total of more than 2,000 hours to get Lou ready for his starring role. Anyone who ever tried teaching his or her own Fido to stay can understand the need for that schedule. Of course, Lou did not just have to stay. He had to stay, speak, look forward, look away (turn from the trainer), look left or right, sit down, stand up, back up, chase his tail, walk side by side with other dogs, lick faces when asked, play on command, and work with cats. Each of the animals had to master a similar list of behaviors. They did not just get obedience school diplomas – they emerged with the animal equivalent of a Ph.D.
The American Humane Society (AHS) is responsible for animals working in the film industry. The society provides representatives to observe the way in which the animals are trained and the way in which they work. An AHS representative was on the “Cats & Dogs” set whenever an animal was working, to ensure that all four-legged stars were never mistreated or endangered and that they were happy, healthy and safe throughout the filmmaking process.