Famous Relinquished or Abandoned Dogs

Toto! Rin Tin Tin! Eddie! Did you know that some of our most loved canine stars were just days or hours away from being euthanized before they hit the big time? Or that others had been relinquished or abandoned before being discovered? Some owners of these canine celebs have even used the spotlight to promote awareness of shelter dogs. I’m continuing a series of three posts, in which I’ll acquaint you with some of these stars. This post features famous dogs who were relinquished or abandoned.


It soon became apparent that Terry had a problem with wetting the rug, and her new owners had very little patience with her. It wasn’t long before they sought the services of Carl Spitzs dog training school in the nearby San Fernando Valley. Spitz put her through the usual training and in a few weeks she was no longer watering the carpet.

–Allan Ellenberger, Riveting Real Story of Toto

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Judy_Garland_Terry_1939The above quote describes the lackluster start to the movie career of Terry, otherwise known as Toto from the movie Wizard of Oz. German-born trainer, Carl Spitz, first took up the work of schooling dogs in Heidelberg where his father and grandfather were dog trainers. While training dogs for service in World War I, he saw Red Cross dogs search for dying men in no man’s land and made the decision to devote his life to educating man’s best friend. By the time Spitz finished training Terry, his owners were late on board payments. When Spitz couldn’t reach them by telephone, he decided to keep the little Cairn terrier.

Terry became the family pet. Then one day Clark Gable and Hedda Hopper stopped by the kennel for some publicity. Terry made himself known to the two Hollywood stars and the next day Spitz took her to an audition at Fox Studios. Bright Eyes, which starred Shirley Temple, would be the first of many films for Terry.

One day it was announced that MGM was going to produce The Wizard of Oz. Spitz knew that Terry was the mirror image of Dorothy’s dog, Toto, and began teaching her to perform actions described in the book. On November 1, 1938, Terry won the role of Toto without a screen test. As a result of the movie, Terry became so famous that her paw print brought top prices among autograph seekers. She began making public appearances and became so popular that Spitz officially changed her name to Toto.

After six months of training, Moose was on his way to a trainer in Los Angeles and, from there, TV history was made when he landed the role of Eddie and stole our hearts.

–Langley Cornwell, Famous TV and Movie Pets Adopted From Shelters

Entertainment_Weekly_cover_with_MooseAt least two other celebrity dogs were also relinquished by owners before finding their calling in life. First up, there’s Moose, a Jack Russell Terrier known better as Eddie from the hit TV sitcom Frazier.  He was the youngest and the biggest puppy in a litter born in December 1990. Moose was surrendered by his owners because he proved too mischievous to handle. He dug and barked and destroyed things. He was always escaping, running away and ruining property. One time he got out and chased a neighbor’s horses. Another time he got out and killed a neighbor’s cat. That was the last straw. His owners gave him away to a Florida company who trains animals for roles in TV and movies. With training and a focused outlet for his natural drives, Moose started to calm down. Only six months later, he landed the role of Eddie and stole viewers’ hearts.

There’s also Uggie, another Jack Russell terrier, who was rejected by his original owners for being too wild. His career included touring with a dog talent show in the United States and South America and starring in commercials. His most famous movie roles are in Water for Elephants and The Artist. In the latter, his performance won him the Palm Dog award in Cannes and resulted in petitions for other awards to be opened up to dogs.


RinTinTinFollowing advances made by American forces during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Corporal Lee Duncan, an aerial gunner of the U.S. Army Air Service, was sent to the small French village of Flirey to see if it would make a suitable flying field for his unit. In the area, which was subject to bombs and artillery, Duncan found a severely damaged kennel which had once supplied the Imperial German Army with German Shepherd Dogs. The only dogs left alive in the kennel were a starving mother with a litter of five nursing puppies, their eyes still shut because they were less than a week old. Duncan rescued the dogs and brought them back to his unit.

When the puppies were weaned, Duncan gave the mother to an officer and three of the litter to other soldiers, but he kept a male and a female. He felt that these two dogs were symbols of his good luck. He called them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette after a pair of good luck charms that French children often gave to the American soldiers. In July 1919, Duncan managed to bundle the dogs aboard a ship taking him back to the United States at the end of the war.

Skipping ahead a few years, Duncan entered Rin Tin Tin into a show for German Shepherd Dogs in California. Seeing his dog’s performance, Duncan became convinced Rin Tin Tin could become a successful film dog. Duncan walked his dog up and down Poverty Row, talking to anyone in a position to put Rin Tin Tin in film, however modest the role. One break led to another and Rin Tin Tin became much sought after and world-famous.

winklehomeOf more recent fame is Mr. Winkle.  Magazine photographer, Lara Jo Regan, found him as a stray and adopted him. She immediately fell in love with his quirky look and began photographing him in various costumes, settings, and poses. Wikipedia reports that Mr. Winkle’s unique, teddy-bearish appearance has made him a minor celebrity who started appearing in newspapers, magazines, and TV shows.

Are there ones I’ve missed? If so, share in the comments! Then check back later in the week for a post about famous dogs who help promote shelters.



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