She's the only bulldog in the building, and she comes from Long Island.
Whether being pushed in a baby stroller by past-his-prime theater director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), strolling alongside former TV star Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin) or being petted on a couch by aspiring professional artist Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) in the Hulu comedy-mystery series "Only Murders in the Building," Winnie (played by Minnie) is top dog on-screen.
She came a long way, literally and figuratively, to get there.
"She was abandoned in Redland," the unincorporated agricultural area south of Miami, "by her previous family," explains Plainview's Josephine Ciuzio, Minnie's owner. She and her husband, Rob, have adopted a series of English bulldogs like 4-year-old Minnie and her older housemate, Luna, and French bulldogs like their "little brother," Barney. Named Misty at the time, Minnie was accepted by a rescue organization on Long Island, then taken in by the Ciuzios.
"We don't know much about her first year of life except that she came in extremely fearful and anxious," says Ciuzio, 53, who manages Minnie when not working at her longtime job as practice manager for a Syosset internist. "Little by little through positive training, patience and love, she blossomed into the confident, sweet girl she is today."
Ciuzio had had some experience as a dog wrangler with her late bulldog Baby Howard. An appearance in a pet segment on the NBC morning show "Today” led to an HGTV gig with animal activist Beth Stern, wife of radio icon Howard Stern (Baby Howard’s namesake). Ciuzio eventually signed with the Dawn Animal Agency, and Baby Howard did ad campaigns for fashion brands and others, and appeared alongside soprano Renée Fleming in the Metropolitan Opera's "Der Rosenkavalier" in 2017.
After Baby Howard's passing, Ciuzio stepped away from that world. When Dawn needed a bulldog for "Only Murders in the Building," initially shot at Silvercup Studios North in the Bronx and now at Cine Magic LIC Studios in Long Island City, the firm knew who to call. "They reached out to me and wanted to know if I knew of a bulldog locally," Ciuzio said. "We had just adopted Minnie, who had anxiety, so when I would go places with her, I would put her in a stroller and she felt comfortable. ... [The agency] said, 'Well, they need a bulldog that's going to jump in and out of a stroller, peek out of a stroller … ' I said, 'Oh, she'll be perfect!' "
A few test videos later, Minnie got the role — with a little tweaking. "So when we arrived on set for season 1, the character was called Pete the dog, and I'm, like, 'OK, she's playing a male.' But she wasn't responding" to that name, Ciuzio says. "And so they decided, 'Let's just call her Winnie!' "
On the set, everyone is always concerned about Minnie, Ciuzio notes. "One time we drove to set and she had gotten a little carsick on the LIE. So they got the medic to go bring her Pepcid!”
Prior to season 2, Ciuzio adds, "They arranged for her to come and hang out with Martin Short for a little while to get reconnected to him. Steve Martin and Martin Short, you can't help but smile and laugh when they're, like, singing to her and giving her kisses and stuff. And same with Selena."
Ciuzio and her husband, a PSE&G facilities manager, were born and raised in Queens but moved to Plainview about 25 years ago to buy a house. Her family followed. "My brother lives two blocks away," she says. "My parents live about five minutes away. It's like 'Everybody Loves Raymond'!" Though clearly, here, everybody loves Minnie.