Dog Day Afternoon

If you found yourself doubting that the world really had gone to the dogs, Irvine Regional Park was the logical place to turn for proof. Mutts and their masters turned out en masse on a recent weekend for the latest edition of the Animal Planet television show Pet Star.

It was good time management for canines and their homo sapiens, who were able to cram a year's worth of marking and sniffing into just a few hours—but not so much for the Animal Planet overlords, who came up short after holding two days' worth of auditions for Pet Star, which features pets that do funny things.

Like other aspects of Orange County suburban life, such as the color you can't paint your house (all of them), they realized late Sunday that pets come in plain vanilla down here, too. This was bad news for the casting director, who'd driven in from the San Fernando Valley to set up camp across the creek from what turned out to be a brush fire. That came later.

First came the dogs, great and small, and the occasional bird. There's probably someone in Midway City with an alligator penned up on his driveway—but apparently no one told him about the auditions. So the TV people got mostly Chihuahuas, huskies and terriers when they wanted anteaters, pigs, rats or parrots. In a pinch, they would also have accepted squirrels.

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They got dogs—and no sooner had sign-ups started than a half-dozen fire trucks rolled into the park, sirens blaring. In a repeat from Memorial Day, a brush fire had broken out just outside the park, on the other side of Santiago Creek. Cue the obligatory announcement about how there was no danger, and knots of people and animals started ankling for the exits, halving the cast and the audience in about 10 minutes.

Janet King of Costa Mesa and her patriotic dachshunds, Stretch and Cricket, stuck around, in hopes of outperforming the brush fire. The pups wore tiny American-flag bandannas around their necks, and not to be outdone, King wore a T-shirt with a dachshund pictured in front of another American flag. It read, "Don't mess with me or I might have to lick you to death."

"They gonna do a whole bunch of little tricks," King told a crowd of around 100 who remained; what that meant was that either Stretch or Cricket (I couldn't tell them apart) would roost on his hind legs in a begging pose.

The other one tried and couldn't master it, but King had another trick: she "shot" the dogs with imaginary pistols, saying, "Bang, bang," loudly—and they rolled over and played dead. The act exited to weak applause, and the show limped along.

Two or three forgettable turns later—either before or after they played "Who Let the Dogs Out" over the P.A.—came Darcie Moylen, a sprightly young blonde from Mission Viejo, and her Entlebucher Sennehund named Roxy. Moylen had told me the breed is used for herding cattle in the Alps, but it turned out Roxy could catch a mean Frisbee.

"Too much sugar," the announcer kept saying as Roxy galloped around. "She's hyper."

Which was great because her enthusiasm proved infectious. Roxy was the best performer all afternoon, followed quickly by the worst: a Westminster couple and their birds—a cockatoo and a parrot, neither of which would perform on cue. And . . . we were out.

"Last year, we had an anteater," Pet Star co-producer William Langworthy lamented afterward. "It climbed a ladder to get some baby food."

That was at auditions in Long Beach, though, where people raise pigs in their garages, snakes escape from their terrariums, pet stores sell gorillas. Down here, you run with the dogs tonight. Like Liz Phair sang before she threw it all in, they hold the place like the mafia and say, "Run me around again."

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