Baby Howard the English bulldog was rescued from the streets of Brooklyn at 6 weeks old. Now, at age 6, he has hit his stride as a canine with a cause and a busy career.
His owner, Josephine Ciuzio, of Plainview, said it all started when the nonprofit Long Island Bulldog Rescue asked her and husband Rob to foster Baby Howard until he could be adopted. The nonprofit wanted to make the then-tiny pup the face of the organization and name him after radio shock-jock Howard Stern, the so-called “king of all media.” Given the dog’s size, they named him Baby Howard, “the prince of rescue media.”
“So I signed up for the job and he came to live with us,” said Ciuzio, 47. “Us” includes the family’s two other English bulldogs, Princess, 14, and Bella, 9. “And I of course fell in love with him and ended up adopting him. For the first few years of his life he was at rescue events all over New York City. One of the people that we met asked if we could do a segment on the ‘Today’ show for pets.”
Then Beth Stern, Howard Stern’s wife and a Long Island Bulldog Rescue supporter, took him on an HGTV show, Ciuzio said. “We started to notice that he was very good with the camera,” Ciuzio said. “After that, we ended up getting him an agent, and we started booking modeling jobs and doing TV appearances.”
But first came puppy kindergarten and obedience school.
Now, Baby Howard loves wearing bow ties and getting dressed up for modeling gigs, making TV appearances and promoting shelter animals at schools, Ciuzio said.
Other bright lights have also beckoned. From April 13 to May 13, he spent two days a week in Act I of “Der Rosenkavalier” at The Met in a scene with star soprano Renée Fleming, including for Fleming’s last performance in one of her signature roles as the Marschallin.
Baby Howard has also been part of ad campaigns for fashion brands Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. He appeared in “Ann,” a play at the Lincoln Center for a fundraising performance; and in campaigns for companies such as TD Bank and Macy’s.
His agent, Nancy Novograd, is president of All-Tame Animals, a Manhattan-based talent agency whose website says provides domestic, farm and exotic animals for stage, screen, television and print. Novograd called Baby Howard “a sweet, sweet dog” who is “a pleasure to work with.”
Family, fun and fundraising
At home, where one sign out front welcomes people to “Live Happy” and another warns that “Crazy Dog People Live Here,” Baby Howard shares the limelight with his sisters. The 60-pound, brown-and-white pooch greets guests with sloppy kisses and hugs, and makes sure to give Princess, who is like a mother figure, first dibs at their homemade food, which includes a protein such as lamb, duck or beef and a mixture of vegetables.
“No kibbles here,” said Ciuzio, who started making her dogs’ food after Bella got sick soon after she was adopted from a breeder. Ciuzio shares recipes, along with fun photos and updates, on Baby Howard’s Facebook page (Facebook.com/babyhowardbulldog), which has more than 17,500 fans. He also has about 3,200 Instagram followers (@babyhowardbulldog).
Princess also came from the Animal Care Centers of NYC Brooklyn location, the same shelter as Baby Howard’s first stop.
Baby Howard loves his plush toys and especially the pool shaped like a doggy bone treat that Rob Ciuzio, 47 (who likes to stay in the background in a supporting role), carved a spot for in the backyard deck. But like many bulldogs, he is sensitive to grass and has environmental allergies, so he mostly does events indoors or in air-conditioned areas.
Baby Howard also has an aversion to dog parks. “When he was little, he was attacked by another dog at a dog park,” Josephine Ciuzio said.
Her boy can also be “very fussy,” she said, adding that when he’s out and about “he has to have his Poland Spring. He’s a diva,” Ciuzio said of Baby Howard’s preferred choice of water.
But he loves spending time with people, especially children. Baby Howard is a mascot for Rock & Rawhide, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that supports shelter animals. He attends events throughout the year to help collect toys, blankets and treats. Ciuzio is on the group’s board of directors.
“Howard goes in to meet with the kids and gives them all kisses and makes them all very happy,” said Rock & Rawhide co-founder Kylie Edmond. “And they get to meet a dog and get to see photos of him modeling for different fashion designers or a Macy’s commercial or things like that and to think that, ‘Wow, a dog that was thrown away — that nobody wanted and ended up in a shelter — ends up being a little superstar.’ ”
Edmond said experiences like that can change the negative perception that some people have about rescue animals.
On May 21, Baby Howard will make an appearance at the Rock & Rawhide tent at Adoptapalooza in Union Square, encouraging people to drop off goodies for shelter animals.
Edmond said the work Ciuzio and Baby Howard are doing “is so beautiful and so vital, and it’s not about the celebrity, it’s not about the money. It really is true to the heart. It’s about rescue and it’s about helping others — about supporting the rescue community.”
Interested in the limelight?
Have you ever had the inkling to put your pet in show biz? The first step, says Nancy Novograd, president All Tame Animals, a talent agency in New York that represents “insects to elephants,” is to reach out to an agent.
Among the qualities an agent will look for — specifically when it comes to dogs, though many can be applied to other pets — include:
- Whether the pet has the confidence to work at a distance from its owner.
- If it has the temperament to work with strangers.
- “It helps to be able to work with other animals, but it’s not essential,” Novograd says.
- “The animal has to have a vocabulary,” something akin to understanding commands like “stay,” but it goes a little beyond that, especially with dogs. She says they need to adjust through communication when things change on set.
- “You want a focused, upbeat, happy animal.”
- Novograd, who likes auditioning animals outdoors to see how they deal with distractions, says most like to work. “Life is more interesting when they are out and working,” she says. They also get to spend more time with their owners in the process. “If they like to work, they are usually pretty good about it.”