Pet Diaries: The Hollywood Dog That Taught Me the Meaning of Gratitude

Introducing Pet Diaries: Life lessons learned from our pets. This 9-part series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Purina ONE®, and explores how having a pet can change your place in your neighborhood, community, and beyond. Check out more stories at the GOOD Pets hub.

When I was a kid growing up in Colombia, I was a natural with animals. People brought me injured birds, dogs, rabbits, chickens —even a bear and an alligator once—and I’d fix them up and try to teach them a few tricks.

Every night when I got home from school, I’d hurry to tend to my animals and then run to the roof of our house, where I’d lie on my belly looking down on them all in the yard as I studied their behaviors. I came from a big family and we didn’t have much money but I dreamt of going to America one day and working in Hollywood with animals.

Chasing the American Dream wasn’t as easy as my family hoped and we struggled at first. I helped my big brother street perform by training his dog co-stars. I branched into commercials and movies, sometimes joining my animals in front of the camera. I eventually settled in Miami just before Hurricane Andrew hit. I refused to evacuate if it meant leaving my dogs, so I sat it out. When we emerged to see what was left, it looked like the end of the world. I never wanted to experience that again, so I picked myself up and started over—this time in Los Angeles with a Jack Russell puppy who’d been found barely alive in the hurricane debris. I named him Andy after the hurricane, and thus began my love affair with Jack Russells.

Ten years and a lot of hard work later, I heard about a naughty young Jack Russell named Uggie who was destined for a California pound after he’d killed a cat. I took him in and started to train him alongside Andy and my best animal actor (up until then), a Jack named Extreme Pete. We began with some basic street entertainment on Santa Monica Boulevard.

It quickly became apparent that Uggie had bigger dreams and he soon grew bored of our routines of hoop-jumping, skateboarding, or collecting dollars from customers. He staggered me with his wit and intelligence and developed his own comic timing. If one of the other dogs slipped up, he’d jump off his stool and steal the limelight (and the cash). Small and good-looking, everybody loved Uggie. Sensing his natural talent, I channeled his energies into more advanced training. He was my fastest learner; watching my every move and needing little encouragement to play dead, walk on his back legs, and act out numerous other remarkable behaviors. Highly food-motivated, he started off working for treats, but after a while he worked to please me—and then, I think, just to please himself.

Uggie and I preparing for a scene in Water for Elephants

Before I knew it, Uggie was my most wanted animal actor, getting role after role in commercials and movies such as Mr. Fix It and Water for Elephants. One day a French director came along and picked him for a small role in a silent black and white movie called The Artist. Uggie was the little dog that became a global phenomenon during awards season, when the The Artist went on to win five Oscars, including Best Picture.

From our humble home in the San Fernando Valley, we were flown first-class to places like New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., London, and Paris. We met countless major movie stars, politicians and celebrities along the way. We appeared on major network shows and dined with the superstars of the stage, sports, and screen. Uggie has published a best-selling memoir with Simon and Schuster in six countries and has his own iPhone app. He is the first dog to have his paw prints immortalized on Hollywood Boulevard and we even took part in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day—something I watched on TV as a kid, along with the Oscars. I was humbled in the face of his new-found stardom and the way he sucked the air from a room with his terrier presence. With more than 30,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, he became as much of a celebrity as any A-lister, but his fans aren’t intimidated by his fame the way they would be with a human. Everybody wants to meet him, hold him, kiss him and be licked by him, and he happily obliges.

Uggie on Hollywood Boulevard, Photo courtesy of Rupert Thorpe

Through numerous charity events, donations, and the auctioning of signed books and pawtographs, Uggie and I have raised thousands of dollars for animal shelters and put smiles on the faces of millions. I could never have imagined that one little dog could be the catalyst for so much good in my life, those of his fans, and the countless shelter animals that he now officially represents in his worldwide Adopt Don’t Buy campaign.

Being in his calming presence night and day—in hotels, limos, and airline lounges—I’ve watched Uggie closely and learned more than I ever thought possible from him. Back at home we have a large and loving family of seven other rescue dogs, three cats, and a troupe of performing doves. I try to be a good husband and father, but I often work seven days a week to keep a roof over our heads. Life is crazy busy and I sometimes feel as if I’m chasing my own tail, but when I look at Uggs, I see how tail-waggingly accepting he is of everything around him. He doesn’t care how much I earn, what kind of house we live in, fancy cars or vacations. Uggie’s American Dream is simply to be with me, my wife Mercy, and our daughter Terry.

When I studied my animals back in my native Colombia I thought I would be teaching them something. Uggie has made me realize that our animals have far more to teach us. Now that he has just turned 10 years old and is retired from show business, I hope to spend the final years of his life following his shining example. This year, instead of attending the Oscars, we cuddled on the couch watching it and I rubbed his ears as I silently thanked my lucky dog star that Uggie came into my life and taught me the most invaluable lesson of all—gratitude.

Photos courtesy of Omar Von Muller

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet