Rescue Pit Bull Stars In Play, Earns Rave Reviews As Stereotype-Buster

It’s still up for debate whether Helen Keller’s dog Sir Thomas, otherwise known as Phiz, was or wasn’t a pit bull.

What’s for certain is that the dog performing in a play about Keller is indeed a cute little pittie named Darla — who came from humble beginnings before becoming a star, who’s helping defeat negative stereotypes about blocky-headed dogs.

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In 2013, Darla was found tied up behind a house in Indiana, abandoned by her former owner.

She was in rough shape, and was very skinny. Darla got lucky when the nonprofit Fat Heads Rescue took her in, and got her into a foster home.

Wendy R. Miller’s beloved dog Buddy had recently died, and she was bereft. Her brother saw Darla’s adoption listing, and sent it Miller’s way.

She hadn’t expected to adopt again so soon, but “I fell in love immediately,” she says. “She’s amazing.”

Photo credit: Wendy Miller
Photo credit: Wendy Miller

For the next few years, Darla’s life was wonderfully normal.

Waking up with her people. Following her two human siblings and parents around the house. Tucking in for her naps after they’ve gone off to school and work. Then more fun and attention, and walks and rolls in the grass, once everyone’s back home.

“Basically every dog’s dream,” says Miller.

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Things became even a little more exciting recently.

Miller acts, on top of being a professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing. She got cast as Helen Keller’s teacher in a production of “The Miracle Worker” — the famous play about Keller’s life, which happens to have a scene involving a dog in it.

Due to how hard it can be working with animals, director Rachel Fishback considered simply skipping this scene.

“But after meeting Darla at Wendy’s home, I decided to cast her as Helen’s dog,” she told a local newspaper.

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Miller says that performing on stage with Darla has been a great experience for both of them.

Darla’s tail starts thumping every time Miller says it’s time to go to the theater — and when they get there everyone in the cast and crew greets the dog first.

“‘Darla!’ Not, ‘Hi, Wendy.’ And I love that,” Miller says.

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Since the play’s run began at the end of September, Darla’s performed beautifully — always hitting her marks, and only ever passing a little bit of gas.

Then after each show, Miller will often get asked by audience members: What breed of dog is Darla? That’s usually followed up with questions about how Miller gets a pit bull to be so good, and well behaved.

These are questions that Miller is glad to answer — and will be still, for another few days more; Darla’s encounter with stardom ends soon, since the play is closing on October 9.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to educate my community,” Miller says. “It makes me a little teary-eyed. I love her so much, and she is such a kind soul.”

Photo credit: Wendy Miller
Photo credit: Wendy Miller

 

Arin Greenwood

Arin Greenwood is an animal writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Previously, she was animal welfare editor at The Huffington Post. Arin is a former lawyer (J.D. from Columbia Law School, member of the New York Bar), life long animal lover, pit bull advocate, and devoted fan of cats and dogs who run for public office. Her first novel, Tropical Depression -- based on her five-odd, sometimes very odd, years living on a small island near Guam -- was published by teeny indie publisher Back Porch Books in 2011. Her second book, a comic young adult mystery called Save The Enemy, was published by Soho Teen in November 2013. Hello From Dog Island!, Arin's third book, will be published by Soho Teen in 2018. Know a shelter with a great, innovative program? Have another animal story to share? Get in touch at aringreenwood@gmail.com!