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Getting their clients a paw in the door

New York is also the center of the animal talent agency world, where firms book work for dogs, butterflies, camels and rodents.

Forget tall and skinny. Kate Spade’s newest model is a short and stout wet-nosed furball with four legs. At the tender age of 2, Udi has gotten her paw in the door of the fashion world, having caught the eye of an animal talent agency looking for a canine to showcase the luxury fashion label’s new line of handbags.

The agency, Pawsitively Famous of New Jersey, already represents a number of animal actors, including such luminaries as the Aflac Duck, which now has its own Twitter account.

Udi got her start when owner Tracy DeBarnadis sent headshots to Pawsitively Famous. DeBarnadis called her petite French Bulldog “a natural. She’s very good at it. She’s a great little modeler and she’s very cooperative.”

But would she measure up to the standards of Dawn Wolfe, owner of Pawsitively Famous? Wolfe took one look at Udi and knew the black and white pooch was perfect for Kate Spade. The animal talent agency mostly goes into Manhattan for photo shoots.

And Wolfe should know. She has spent years developing a curated online database of camera-ready pets with her stamp of approval. Clients have included a Noah’s Ark of dogs, cats, birds, farm animals, horses, reptiles and rodents.

Animal talent agencies have steadily grown over the years, with about 50 scattered throughout the country and around a dozen in New York City. The pay ranges, but typically an owner receives about $200 to $400 a day for the pet's hard work, Wolfe said. Once the animal becomes a star, that number skyrockets. “Benji” is considered the highest-paid animal actor ever.

But much like its human counterpart, animal showbiz can be a dog-eat-dog world.

“It is actually very competitive,” said Cat Long, a specialist and trainer at All Creatures Great & Small of White Plains, New York.

The firm is inundated with photos from pet owners, and the agencies themselves compete aggressively for talent. All Creatures recently supplied the dogs for a New York Lottery commercial, and just received a request for an ad in which cats will sit on moving roombas, the popular self-operating robotic vacuums. “We do everything from butterflies to camels,” Long said.

Last week, staffers studied the newest canine candidate, Baby Beans. A 125-pound Bullmastif, Baby Beans was asked to sit, stay and interact with trainers to prove he had an agreeable temperament before he could be considered for a project. The dog passed with flying colors.

All Creatures started 50 years ago when the agency supplied animals for the famed children’s television show “Captain Kangaroo.” Long’s mother, Ruth Manecke, began the business after being rejected from veterinary school and entering the Bronx Zoo as a zoologist instead. At the time, it was challenging for women to get accepted into medical programs, but Manecke said everything fell into place when she began a career at the zoo. After making contacts through her work on the zoo’s TV programs, she broke away and began her own company, eventually bringing her daughter into the business.

Much has changed in the decades since she started, Manecke said. But two essential elements are still required of their clients, whether it be a parrot or a pug, a monkey or a marmot: It has to have a cute face and a good attitude.

Does your pet have what it takes?

The animal talent scouting process begins with a preliminary pet interview. During that period, owners bring their animals in for obedience testing and a behavioral exam to determine whether it can cooperate on set. For dogs, far more is required, according to Hollywood Paws.com animal training agency. The company offers a handy guide for owners who think they have the perfect pooch for show business. The American Kennel Club's 10-step Canine Good Citizenship test is a good measure, according to Hollywood Paws.