An anxious crowd sits on bleachers staring at a stage dressed like a movie set. Adults and children peer over each other to view any signs of activity when they suddenly see it. Dogs and cats start scurrying across the stage to the sounds of a jazzy spy movie theme song.
The set is the Universal Studios “Animal Actors” show, and its leading actors, of course, are the animals. Raccoons, pot-bellied pigs, cats, dogs and rats are just some of the animals that grace the stage with their Oscar-winning performances.
It is a show unlike any other typically seen at a theme park that reveals the relationship between animal and trainer.
“I’m a huge animal lover and advocate,” said Kelly Kriesel, manager of entertainment operations. “This is such a great example of the relationship between humans and animals that can exist with animals being treated the way they deserve. Their care and love for their furry and non-furry actors is so admirable. They’re a great team, and the fact that I can see a dog, pig and fox all in 20 minutes doesn’t hurt.”
With the theme park’s closing, the animals are not entertaining guests, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working.
Many of the animals featured in the show are still putting in work doing commercials or filming on movie sets. These actors are in high demand; they are even traveling out of the country, taking their talents as far as Canada. According to lead trainer John McCormick, there is a “60 percent chance” that an animal on TV or in a movie is one of the animals from the show.
So, what about the pets that aren’t busy on a set? McCormick says the only thing that has changed is the amount of attention each animal is getting.
“It’s very much the same routine, McCormick said. “The only thing is they’re spoiled even more now. It’s kind of like being on an extended vacation for them.”
Included with this extended vacation are more grooming, treats and a lot more belly rubs. From macaws to guinea pigs, each animal is getting the attention and care that is required.
“These animals are our lives,” McCormick said. “We hang out with them, pet them, groom them and we make sure they are getting more than what they need.
At the end of the day, animals will shift to their night-time enclosures. Cameras are continuously monitoring each animal, and their areas are temperature regulated. Some even go home with trainers to spend the night.
McCormick has been working with Bird and Animals Unlimited, the vendors in charge of the animals, for 21 years and absolutely loves it.
“My favorite memories are the impressions we leave on the guest,” McCormick said. “If we can get them to spend an extra 20 minutes with their animals teaching them something, that’s 20 more minutes that the animal is getting attention. They are so smart and so fun to work with we want people to know that these animals can be more than just a pet.”
The park has been closed for ten months now, and though each trainer and animal is doing their part keeping busy, there is something about the animal show that shines above everything else.
“I love being with the other trainers and hearing people laugh,” McCormick said. “Until you have it, you don’t realize how special it is. The animal show has a special place in the park that people from toddlers to 85-year old’s can enjoy. They can watch the animals do some fun stuff, and I certainly miss all that.”
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