Hollywood Gives Stray Dogs New Leash on Life

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Nationwide Search

One of the best-known strays to become a star is Benji, who was found by legendary Hollywood trainer Frank Inn at a Burbank, California, animal shelter. The floppy eared mutt's first movie in 1975 sparked a huge interest in shelter dogs. As a result, the American Humane Association estimates more than one million homeless animals have since been adopted from pounds.

In 2001, when Benji creator Joe Camp wanted to find a new canine star, he launched a nationwide shelter search in hopes that it would once again draw attention to the smart, loving animals that can be adopted at shelters.

The three-month search began in Chicago and proceeded to several cities including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Animal organizations and pet adoption Web sites helped Camp on his quest. Hundreds of Benji look-a-like photographs poured in.

After seeing a picture of a pup named Jodie at the South Mississippi Humane Society in Gulfport, Camp flew there to meet her. But when he arrived at Petsmart, where the humane society regularly displays its animals for adoption, there was a surprise waiting for him. Besides Jodie, there was another mutt, who had been found wandering the streets. One look at the stray and Camp fell in love.

The dog was adopted and flown back to his home in southern California where there were two other candidates—one from Chicago's Animal Care and Control Shelter and one from the Carson Shelter near Los Angeles. The three spent a week with Camp and his family, then a week with trainer Anne Gordon.

A selection was made and the Mississippi mutt got the job.

"This is one amazing dog," Camp said of Benji Number 4. "Those eyes simply melt everyone she comes in contact with, and she is absolutely the brightest of some very bright predecessors."

The female terrier mix will begin training this month for a staring role in the movie Benji Returns: From Rags to Riches.

"It will be her story in effect," Camp said in a telephone interview from his Valley Center, California, home, while the new Benji quietly rested on the floor near him. The film will depict her struggles on the street, the situations she gets into, and her ultimate selection as the next Benji canine film star.

The other dogs that vied for the lead role but lost were given different jobs. The Los Angeles candidate is Benji's understudy and the Chicago candidate will play her goofy, unwanted sidekick. About 25 shelter dogs of all shapes and sizes will also appear in the film, which will be released next summer.

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Nationalgeographic.com Resources on Dogs

News and Features
A Love Story: Our Bond With Dogs from National Geographic magazine
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Bear Dogs on Patrol for Problem Grizzlies
Veterans: Dogs of War Deserve a Memorial
Therapy Dogs Seem to Boost Health of Sick and Lonely
Life Is Serious Mission for Rescue Dogs
Crisis-Response Dogs Offer Comfort After Tragedy
Dogs Are "True Heroes" of Iditarod, Race Champ Says
Brooklyn Dog a Rising Star in New York Art Scene
Canine Companions May Help Kids Learn to Read
U.S. Beagle Brigade is First Defense Against Alien Species

Science and Dogs
Scientists Start Deciphering Dog Genome
Human Gestures Fed Dogs' Domestication
Animal Acupuncture: More Pets Get the Point
National Geographic magazine's "Wolf to Woof: The Evolution of Dogs"

News and Features About Other Canids
Coyotes Now at Home in Eastern U.S.
Rare-Dog Search Meets With Success, Then Tragedy
Hi-Tech Tracking Tool Tested in Wolf Recovery Efforts
Scandinavian Wolves on Road to Recovery, Study Says
Most-Endangered Wolves May Be Saved By Vaccine
Is U.S. Safe From Foxhunting Debate?

Related Lesson Plans:
Use National Geographic News articles on dogs in your classroom with these Xpeditions lesson plans.
Lesson Plan: Little Red Riding Hood Meets—A Golden Retriever?
Lesson Plan: Geographical Dog Show
Lesson Plan: From Wolf to Woof
Lesson Plan: The Human Role in Dog Evolution

More About Animals
National Geographic Animals and Nature Guide

Other Web Sites
List of Dog Breeds (American Kennel Club)

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