From Humane Society Of New York To Broadway – 1 Dogs Story

Every year, some 38,000 homeless dogs and cats find new families through the Humane Society of New York (HSNY). One of them became an international star.

A star is born

New Yorkers Dorothy and Bill Berloni adopted Nellie from the Humane Society of New York in 2008. Bill Berloni, a professional animal trainer long associated with HSNY, saw something special in the 10-month-old English bulldog. His training of Nellie worked out so well that she began touring in stage shows of Legally Blonde: The Musical, adapted from Amanda Brown’s 2003 book and the 2007 movie of the same name. The musical production took Nellie across the country to perform in hundreds of shows. 

Fast-forward a few years and director Jim Jarmusch was looking for a dog for his movie Paterson. A demo tape of Nellie had Jarmusch and his crew looking her way, and they cast her in the role of Marvin the bulldog. The film’s producer, Carter Logan, later said that as soon as the crew saw how expressive Nellie was, “we knew she was the one.” 

A legacy of love

Nellie was, Jarmusch said, “a joy to work with.” Although he’d originally planned to cast a Jack Russell terrier, the director recreated the role for a bulldog after meeting Nellie. Jarmusch also noted how much Nellie loved Adam Driver, who played the film’s title role. English bulldogs’ short legs and strained lung capacity mean that they become exhausted quickly, so Driver would carry Nellie from one part of the set to another. 

In the middle of production for Paterson, Nellie received a bone cancer diagnosis. The crew rearranged the schedule to allow for her treatment and her limited energy. After shooting was completed, Nellie passed away at age eight. 

At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Nellie received the Palm Dog award, the canine equivalent of the coveted Palme D’Or. She became the first posthumous winner of the prize. Upon accepting the award’s trophy, a golden collar, on Nellie’s behalf, Carter Logan asked anyone thinking of getting a dog to adopt from a shelter, instead of buying from a breeder or a pet store, in memory of Nellie.

The Berlonis partnered with HSNY to establish the Sandy Fund, named in honor of a former rescue dog trained by Bill to play the role of Sandy in the musical Annie. Donations help support the society’s work caring for and rehoming unhoused, injured, and in-need animals like Sandy and Nellie at its shelter. 

Generations of caring at the Humane Society of New York

Since its founding in 1904 to advocate for the humane treatment of working horses, HSNY has served as an unwavering voice for animals. Over the last 120 years, fundraising and expansion have allowed the society to provide a free and low-cost medical clinic for dogs and cats, free spay and neuter services, and adoption facilitation. The society’s staff, volunteers, and animal behavior specialist care for each animal with compassion and offer individually tailored treatment designed to heal injured bodies and injured souls. 

HSNY’s work also encompasses extensive public awareness campaigns and legislative advocacy on issues crucial to supporting the rights and wellbeing of animals.

Had you ever heard of Nelli or seen her in a movie? Our pets do some crazy things! I swear our dog, Jasper, could have been a basketball player as a puppy. We’d toss a basketball in the air and he’d jump up and “slam dunk” it! And our daughter’s chihuahua, Marshall, could give the stink eye like nobody else! Do you have a pet that you think would be great in a movie or Broadway show?

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