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Adult rescue dog finds fame on FLT stage

on Tuesday, 08 September 2015. Posted in Good life, Arts & Culture

Sophie Marie beat all odds, not only finding a home and family to love her, but a chance to shine under the spotlights at the Florence Little Theatre. Little Sophie is playing Willoughby in the upcoming musical “Mary Poppins.” It is her second role on the FLT stage. She made her stage debut as Toto in FLT’s “Wizard of Oz” in 2014. Sophie Marie belongs to the family of David and Celly Padgett Kahn. Their daughter, Celly Marshall Kahn, is her trainer, handler and, if needed, booking agent. 

Zx Sophie, a rescue from the Jane Boswell Animal Shelter, was adopted by the Kahn family five years ago. As an adult dog (five years old) and black, she was among those not likely to be adopted. “Most people are looking for puppies or kittens and overlook the adult dogs and cats,” noted Celly Marshall, explaining that due to superstitions, black animals are often considered bad luck. The Kahn family went to the shelter to find a companion for Jill, their aging lab-mix who was depressed after the death of her mate, Jack. The family noticed the cute little black terrier, but assumed Jill would want a larger dog as a companion.

After introducing Jill to several larger dogs, they brought over the little black dog. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but this was the only dog Jill didn’t hate, Celly said. So the cute little black dog was adopted and given the name Sophie Marie. She and Jill lived together until Jill passing this year. Sophie, a Cairn Terrier, is the same breed as the little dog who played Toto in the movie, “Wizard of Oz.” So, when auditions were held for FLT’s “Wizard of Oz,” Celly Marshall and her mom Celly took Sophie to tryouts. 

Scarlett Knight, the director, was smitten by Sophie’s charms and cast her in the show. She also cast Sophie’s mom, the elder Celly, as Glinda, the good witch. The family immediately signed Sophie up for obedience classes with Teri Ribley of Sit Happens. Celly Marshall attended classes with her to learn how to teach her new behavior using positive enforcement. “Teri is a gifted dog trainer and she came to some of the rehearsals to help with techniques,” Celly said. Rebecca Kelley was cast as Dorothy in the play, so she and Celly began working with Sophie on her stage performance. “The key was for Rebecca and Sophie to establish a strong bond so Sophie would follow her and come to her on stage,” Celly explained. 

They bonded and because of that bond, Sophie felt protective of Rebecca. She naturally barked on instinct when the Wicked Witch came near Rebecca. Sophie Marie fell in love with the theatre, Celly, commented, and got excited when told it was time for rehearsal. She became even more energetic once she began performing in front of an audience. “She was so focused,” her trainer said. “She knew the music and when she heard the song that was her cue to go on stage, her little legs started moving before I could put her down,” Celly said.

Maybe it was fate that Sophie Marie was adopted into a family who loves theatre. David, Celly and Celly Marshall are all veterans of the FLT stage. In “Mary Poppins,” also directed by Scarlett Knight, Sophie has a smaller role as the pampered pet of Mrs. Lark, a neighbor of the Banks family. She only appears in four scenes during the first act, but Sophie doesn’t know it is a small part, her handler said. “She thinks she is in the whole show,”laughed Celly. Sophie is carried on stage and held during most of her scenes, but there is one scene when she has a conversation with Mary Poppins and Bert. 

They used hand signals to train her when to bark. “Of course, Sophie is an animal and she’s not always feeling it,” Celly noted. During rehearsals, Celly takes Sophie home after the first act, but she plans to bring her back for curtain call during the run of the show. Celly said Sophie Marie has been an absolutely delightful pet and she urges everyone interested in a pet to consider rescuing an adult dog or cat and not to be prejudiced against the black ones. “We have both a black dog and a black cat,” she said. Those adult animals will capture your heart whether they’re on stage or off, she added.

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