Bringing Butley, Part III

March 12, 2013  

A couple shares their tales of bringing their pit bull along with them while touring cross-country with theatrical productions

By Todd Cerveris

To catch up on Butley’s travels, see Part I and Part II.

So, with three tours and nearly four years of touring under my belt, and another two years of touring for my wife, you’d think we’d be done with the road, right?

I did the two-year Broadway tour of “Twelve Angry Men” on my own and a year of “Spring Awakening” with Angie (she finished the second year on her own). I did five months with The Acting Company’s annual “bus & truck” tour. I’ve worked in regional theaters all over the United States. I’ve bussed, driven, planed and trained my way across thousands of miles of North America, including Alaska and part of Canada. I’ve stared sleeplessly at late-night infomercials in hotels far and wide. I’ve dined on bar snacks and beer in hotel bars hither and yon. I’ve learned to discern the subtle (or not-so-subtle) differences between a Ramada Inn, a Travelodge, a Westin and a Hyatt. I’m a registered member of 10 different travel clubs and 16 different hotel clubs, including one for which I only have the number (I don’t even know which chain it is). My wife and I earned enough travel points to take a week’s vacation for our anniversary at a Le Meridién resort in Cancùn on Platinum status, and we still had enough for two weeks in the Maldives! Upon returning to my own apartment, I’ve had to unlearn the habit of reaching for a room keycard in my wallet. And, I blush to say, upon settling into my seat on a plane, I’ve actually heard myself mutter the phrase, “Ah, a new issue of SkyMall.”

Like I say, you’d think we’d be done with the road. And for awhile, you’d have been right. But … never say never.

I’d long since finished my year with “South Pacific” on Broadway, my wife was done with the “Spring Awakening” tour, and we’d had a few other shows in NYC and at regional theaters around the United States. I’d worked on creative projects in some new (for me) media, including writing, directing and video editing. I’d even gone so far as to run for (and win) a seat on my apartment co-op board. So it was decided. We were home – we were settled.

Which of course meant that everything was about to become un-settled.

My wife and I were offered the roles of Ted and Rose Narracott, the parents of Albert, the boy whose horse is sold to the British Army, for the first U.S. tour of “War Horse.” The project was exciting, the chance to work together (and have Butley with us) was attractive, and … well …

We’re actors. Actors act.

We’re doing it a little differently this tour. We left the folding bikes at home. (We liked having them, but it saves a lot of hassle.) We’ve packed much lighter. And we’re familiar with many of the cities and venues, and even the routes between them, so we know in advance what to expect when traveling with a dog.

Hatin’ on Horses

It’s a terrific group of people we’re touring with – lots of dog lovers in the cast and crew. Butley has a regular group of friends among us. And he has indeed become something of a mascot.

The one irony is – Butley hates horses.

If we’re walking down a city street and we pass a mounted cop, or if we’re in the country and we pass an open field or pasture and smell that horsey smell, we make sure to take the lay of the land. Butley’s not usually a barking dog. People remark all the time about how quiet he is, how they can be in the room next to us and, unless he jumps from the bed to the floor, they don’t hear anything at all. And he’s very congenial with all sorts of people and many dogs.

But … horses. In his mind, the world needs to be alerted to the presence of horses. Because they are BIG, STRANGE, POWERFUL, UNPREDICTABLE THINGS WHO ARE BENT ON TAKING OVER THE WORLD. He’s not predatory – he’s not even defensive. He’s just … LOUD. All of a sudden, out of this placid, jovial little fire hydrant of a canine comes a hoarse, bellowing hound dog howl that can stop traffic. Needless to say, I expect Butley will not be meeting the horse puppet, “Joey,” anytime while we’re on tour.

Our tour has just begun, but we’re already returning to a lot of familiar haunts. At the theater in Los Angeles, I knew half the dressers working there. In San Francisco, where we are now, we’re at the same theater where we did “Spring Awakening.” And we’re staying in the same part of town, just not as high up the hill (this city and its hills – yeesh). Touring a second time has been a nice chance to revisit some of our favorite cities and not do the obvious tourist things but instead to do That-Thing-We-Always Meant-To-Do, or eat at That-Place-Where-We-Always-Meant-To-Eat.

Also, this time we know ahead of time a lot of the good places to take Butley. There’s “that park over on such-and-such street” or there’s “that trail over near blah-blah-blah” or there’s “that café where they always gave him biscuits.” And believe it or not, I think he actually remembers some of them – the cafés, especially.

Watching Butley travel is always interesting. You can’t really talk about “dogs in the wild” because, long-domesticated as they are, I doubt that such comparisons are valid. And wolves and coyotes, although related, are different species with different predilections. But typically, although dogs roam they still have a home. In our case, we are Butley’s home. With as much moving around as we do, there is always one constant: us. And that seems to be the reassurance he needs.

Butley’s Demands

Butley’s always game for a road trip – as long as we (or a friend) are driving. He loves to strike out in the morning and see what’s new, what’s different. In fact, if we stay in one place for too long, his morning walk can get a bit mosey-ish; but with changing places every few weeks, every morning walk is a fresh adventure. And yet, he has his rituals:

• Every city needs to have one café where you check in, in the morning – you never know what biscuits or affection may await.

• Preferred housing is a hotel or large domicile, with lots of people, lots of rooms, and lots of comings and goings.

• The morning walk is about an hour long, it’s usually with me, and it’s followed by a nap back in bed, usually with Angie.

• The dinner walk is shorter, but it’s a good time to take it easy and stop in at the reception desk, maybe say “Hello” to the doorman.

• If you’re in a hotel, the nighttime walk simply must pass by the bar because that’s where everyone is.

We have some reliable things for him. He travels with his own bed, which helps him feel like he belongs, wherever he goes. He’s not big on chew toys, but we will pick up a bully stick from time to time. We have a collapsible dog crate that folds down very easily – good for those few hotels that require you have some way to crate your dog when you’re out of the room. But beyond that, he’s pretty comfortable with the nomadic lifestyle.

One very helpful item we have is a Thundershirt, a tight-fitting garment that looks like a rugby jersey for dogs and at first seems like a gimmick – but it really works. If we’re somewhere that there are fireworks or thunder or loud popping sounds like a car backfiring, Butley can get anxious.

But the Thundershirt operates on the same principle, apparently, as Temple Grandin’s “Hug Machine’”: The pressure all around him serves to calm him down and literally within minutes of putting it on, we notice that the drooling, the cowering, the panting and other symptoms that might arise.

And if you’ve never read any Temple Grandin – run to your nearest bookstore. Besides having a lot of interesting information about how to understand how different animals see the world, she’s just a fascinating character on her own. In particular, I recommend “Animals in Translation.” She’s spent so much time trying to understand animals the way they present themselves to us – and not how we try to interpret their signals through our own behavior – that she has some remarkably astute observations I always try to keep in mind when working with Butley.

But the most regular thing in Butley’s life is hanging out with us in the morning and the evening. He’s 7 and a half now – certainly not an old man, but long past his puppy years and mischievous adolescence. He likes his downtime. As long as he gets some good exercise at some point in the day, he’s good to go. He’s a middle-aged guy. Like me, in fact. Pretty easy: food, water, a little amusement, a lot of love and a warm bed. Guys like us – we’re easy that way.

Angie, Butley, and I will be on the road for at least a year, until June 2013. After that, who knows? It’s nice work, if you can get it. And while it’s always nice to be home, the road is kind of home to all three of us. So our future probably holds a little more of both.

You can follow along with our current blog: Just Another Dog & Pony Show, as we travel the country yet again. Past blogs have read a like travelogues – this one is turning out to be a bit more philosophical. And of course, Butley will make his appearances in the blog, from time to time (hence the title).

And if “War Horse” comes to your town, come see the show. We’ll be leaving via the stage door afterward, so stop by and say “Hi.” We may be a bit weary – the show can be pretty tiring, especially on two-show days. But we’re always happy to meet a new face and swap a dog story or two. And we’ll be on our way back to the hotel, of course – to walk our own furry friend once more, before bed.

This article was originally published on October 19, 2012.

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One Response to “Bringing Butley, Part III
  1. barbaraleeanderson07090 says:

    I can’t decide what’s more entertaining here…….the story or the pictures (particularly, the Butley-in-a-red-blanket pic).  LMFAO