LAKE TAHOE — Michael the Dog was rescued twice. He was found in Reno, dragging his chain down the street. He was scheduled for euthanasia, July 3, 2006, when Karen De Souza of the Reno Animal Control sent out an urgent request to local rescue groups.Fortunately, Nanette Cronk at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe responded and she picked him up the day he was to be put down.Michelle Okashima, animal lover and Scraps Dog Bakery employee, met Mike at an adoption fair.“I wasn't looking for a new fur kid, honestly, but when I saw Mike get out of a HSTT volunteer's car and prance about the parking lot, in what I now call his happy dance, well … my heart melted and we have been together ever since,” she said.Okashima started training Mike for obedience competition and obtained an I.L.P., which is granted by the American Kennel Club to pure-breed dogs of unknown lineage, allowing them to enter into performance sports.She noticed a slight deficit, but did not think much about it, as dogs learn at different rates. One day she arrived home with a big load of groceries, then tripped with cans and goods spilling to the floor with a tremendous crash. Okashima went to check on Mike in his crate, and found him sound asleep, unaware of the kitchen catastrophe. She shouted his name about 6 feet from him — to no effect. A trip to the vet confirmed Mike suffers from central brain deafness, which disqualifies him from competition.Okashima continued to train Mike and discovered his purpose. In 2008, Mike became a certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs Inc., and joined a chapter in Reno called Paws for Love. Mike visits hospitals, extended care facilities, schools, and has worked with at-risk youth programs. He has raised money to help “wayward bully breeds,” aiding Girley, an American pitbull terrier and service dog, get back to her owner, a veteran.Mike is currently raising money for cancer research and will walk in the Relay for Life with other Bark for Life pet teams. Okashima was proud when HSTT honored Mike at the 2010 Black Tie and Tails event for his work in the community. He has also been nominated three times for an A.K.C. Humane Fund ACE award for canine excellence for his therapy dog work. This year, Mike is one of two dogs chosen to play Crab the Dog in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival's “Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Sand Harbor, out of 11 dogs that auditioned.For information about the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, visit www.laketahoeshakespeare.com.
The Sierra Sun caught up with Michelle and Mike to check on how his life as an actor is proceeding.Sun: What do you think about Mike working as an actor?Michelle: W.C. Fields was credited with the quote, “Never work with children or animals.” Thank goodness nobody had the audacity to utter this before Shakespeare wrote “Two Gentleman of Verona.” Sun: How does it feel to be the proud mom of an actor child?Michelle: I am pleased that Michael (Mike) was one of the two dogs chosen to play the role of Crab the Dog in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” This is a tremendous opportunity for Mike and I am grateful to Charles Fee and Bob Taylor for looking past his breed type as well as his hearing impairment and casting him. Of course, I have always thought Michael to be exceptional, but as all “pit bull” owners know, you are subject to more rejections than you are anything else. That rejection makes this one acceptance feel so epic. The time we have spent with the 2012 Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Acting Company has been such a lovely experience. Everyone has been so welcoming and supportive. Stage Manager Tim Kinzel takes time out of his busy schedule to personally set up Mike’s crate before we arrive to ensure Mike’s comfort. When I thanked him for his efforts he simply said, “That’s what were here for Michelle, to make life easier for you.” How do I feel? … I am elated. I am elated for Mike, for me, for “pit bulls” and for having an experience of a lifetime. Honestly, I have felt as though I have been floating for the past few weeks.Sun: Has fame noticeably changed Mike? Has he gotten a “big head?”Michelle: The “big head” question made me giggle. Literally, Mike has always had a big head. But on a more figurative note … stardom hasn’t changed Mike a bit. Mike still wakes in the morning to a big bowl of kibble and a satisfying drink of Tahoe tap water. He still swims in the lake with his doggie friends and is happiest covered in dirt and mud. He goes to work every day and greets customers at the store (Scraps Dog Bakery in Kings Beach) and sleeps on the floor in the warm afternoon sun. We just happen to have changed our evening routine. Now, on some nights Mike goes to play with his new buddy Kevin Crouch, the actor who has the role of Launce, Crab’s owner in the play. There is a great chemistry between Mike and Kevin that makes their stage time together electric and believable. If you believe that dogs experience emotion, as I do, I would have to say that Mike adores Kevin. Sun: Does Mike like getting dressed up?Michelle: Mike is a bit of a nudist naturally. His costume for the play is a 2-inch thick leather collar and a leash. Mike is not overly fond of the collar — it makes his neck itch and he is happy when it can be take it off. Sun: Does he plan furthering his acting career?Michelle: If all of the potential roles Mike could get would be as great of an experience as the LTSF, I would be happy to drive Mike to Timbuktu to further his career in acting. Mike does seem to enjoy being on the stage and as long as he is happy and willing to perform, we will continue to audition for parts.Sun: Is there anything Mike would like to add? “Mike:” May I have more treats please?Sun: Tell me about Bark for Life. Michelle: We will walk in the July 27 Bark for Life (The American Cancer Society Bark for Life is a fundraising event honoring canine caregivers) in Incline Village, before we leave for Mike’s evening performance. Visit www.relayforlife.org/learn/relayforeveryone/barkforlife.For information about the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, visit www.laketahoeshakespeare.com.