K-91126 Oct, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner
Gayle Kirschenbaum and Chelsea.
Single, available, no prospects on the immediate horizon … what's a dogmother to do?
As any dogparent knows, the answer is to suit up and take your fluffy little icebreaker for a walk.
“In New York, you just walk [your dog] out on the streets; everyone does,” filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum said. “Even though it's completely illegal, they let you bring your dogs to restaurants. Four o'clock at Rite Aid is teatime for dogs.”
Not only does Chelsea the shih tzu not mind that her dogmother exploits her head-turning looks, it's made her a star — the star of A Dog's Life, to be precise ($24.95 from Facets Video, prebook Nov. 1, street Nov. 22).
Chelsea worked in front of and behind the camera for the “dogamentary” she helped make.
“Originally, the idea was just to make a promo. I had an idea to shoot something in a doggie spa,” Kirschenbaum said. But when she, Chelsea and her crew got out of the cab, they unwittingly walked into the middle of a media event for the spa. Puparazzi from around the world did stories about Chelsea, and her career started to take off.
Although in the movie she has more costume changes than Cher, Chelsea didn't start out with such a big wardrobe.
“Since she has become known, people are just donating things to her,” Kirschenbaum said. “She just got a ski suit. She has cashmere sweaters, a Burberry raincoat.”
Kirschenbaum, an established filmmaker, wasn't always so dog-happy.
She was living in Los Angeles and working in the TV industry. On a visit to see her brother in Florida, she met Chelsea, who had just joined the family. She was “one dog too many” in that household, and it was love at first sight for Kirschenbaum. She got a sherpa pet carrier, and when she boarded the plane for home, Chelsea was with her.
“It took a while for her to trust me,” Kirschenbaum said. “I ended up taking her with me everywhere — on shoots — I used to direct for ‘America's Most Wanted.' I would take her on blind dates, and people wondered why my gym bag was moving.”
She decided to film their quest for love. The pair does everything else together (the movie even includes a scene in the bath together). So, naturally, she got a filmmaking friend to fit Chelsea out with her own camera. As a result, much of A Dog's Life is from a pooch's point of view.
“It was ‘go with the flow, whatever happens, happens,’ she said. “Then 9/11 happened. It changed everything.” Chelsea found her calling as a therapy dog, first helping people cope with their losses from the terror attacks and later at hospitals. After Chelsea's bark awoke a comatose woman and gave her a week of consciousness to make peace with her family before her death, Kirschenbaum found the Cabrini Hospice, where she and Chelsea work with people who are nearing the end of their lives.
That, Kirschenbaum said, led them to the truth they were seeking: “You find love by giving love.”