Each evening, as the theatre goes dark and the crowd quiets, excitement builds. Backstage, actors, stagehands, and other crew members buzz around in preparation. As the story plays out, a small Golden Retriever puppy walks into position with his trainer, Lydia DesRoche, waiting for his big moment on stage.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is the story of a young boy named Christopher who finds the body of his neighbor’s murdered dog and sets out to find the culprit. The play features two animals: Christopher’s pet rat and a tiny puppy who is given to Christopher as a gift from his father at the end of the play.
For someone watching the play, the puppy’s role seems rather simple: he is brought out in a white box as a gift from the father and, after greeting Christopher, he exits the stage and joins his trainer. However, the role of the puppy in this play is far from simple. In fact, behind the scenes, the story of the puppies was one of the most meaningful of the entire production.
Bringing Puppies to Broadway
When “The Curious Incident” opened on Broadway in 2014 (the Tony-winning show closed in late 2016), DesRoche was hired to find and train young puppies to act on stage.
Since the puppy in the play had to remain small, DesRoche was given the task of finding and training not one puppy, but a constant turnover of new dogs, each coming in to replace a previous puppy who had outgrown the role. Each puppy started training at eight weeks old, had a turn on stage for approximately four to six weeks, or until they grew too big for the role (or, in one case, had stage fright and was unable to act!) and then was replaced.
As a dog-rescue advocate and pet parent to two rescue dogs of her own, DesRoche immediately contacted rescue organizations in the area to find puppies for the role. Her idea was to place dogs in the play and then find homes for them after their short acting career ended.
An East Village-based rescue group called Social Tees agreed to help locate dogs who could pass as Golden Retriever puppies to be part of the play, and when rescue puppies fitting the right description were not available, DesRoche reached out to responsible breeders who provided her with puppies that fit the part.
Finding a Home after the Stage
As hard as she worked to find and train the puppies, DesRoche was equally as committed to preparing the puppies to be adoptable dogs at the end of their acting career.
She fostered the puppies in her own home and selected adopting families who she thought would be a good fit for each dog’s temperament and needs. Additionally, she integrated each family into the training process, asking them to occasionally join the puppy backstage for his or her big moment.
One by one, the puppies of “The Curious Incident” outgrew their part and were adopted into permanent families.
“All the puppies stayed in the Broadway family, as each of the dogs was adopted by cast and crew or people otherwise connected to the play,” she says.
The very first puppy was adopted by someone running security for the show, while rescue puppy number six (who vomited on-stage!) was adopted by a friend of an actor in the show. A cast member fell in love with puppy number eight and took him home to the Upper West Side as soon as his role was up. Puppy number nine is also an Upper West Sider. The puppy who closed the show was named Simon and adopted by the head of wardrobe for the show.
Everyone enjoys a feel-good ending, especially one involving a cute puppy, but what most audience members didn’t realize was that, for the puppies of “The Curious Incident,” the ending was just as sweet off stage, as 21 dogs now have forever families and those families have not only a puppy, but a piece of Broadway history.
Images: courtesy Milla Chappel
Milla Chappell of Real Happy Dogs is a documentary dog photographer based in the East Village. As a personal project, Milla works with local rescue groups.