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Rags to riches for rescue dog Archie as he lands starring role as Toto in Wizard Of Oz

By Nevin Farrell

Published 19/01/2016

Former stray Archie with owner Julie Morris
Former stray Archie with owner Julie Morris
Judy Garland as Dorothy with Toto in The Wizard Of Oz

Archie the dog was down on his luck, but now in a real rags-to-riches story that could have come straight out of Hollywood an acting career beckons, as he is set to become a stage star.

The stray's life was in danger as he was spotted wandering at a service station close to one of Ireland's busiest roads - Dublin's M50 motorway - before he was plucked to safety and taken in by an east Belfast family.

Love blossomed between the pooch and his new owners from Bloomfield, and now he has beaten off the competition to land one of the most famous acting roles for a canine.

He is to play Toto in a production of The Wizard Of Oz by Fortwilliam Musical Society in March.

Archie went for an audition on Sunday and, when it came down to the final two, he kept his nerve to get the part after his rival reportedly growled at Maria Sweeney, the actress playing Dorothy.

Archie's owner Julie Morris said: "My friend Donna Mitchell saw an appeal in the Belfast Telegraph for dogs to play Toto and said Archie looked like Toto. We nearly missed the audition because you had to do a wee video and send it through, and then we went for an audition on Sunday.

"I had been practising a bit calling him Toto and playing The Wizard Of Oz music. He endeared (himself to) everybody and as soon as Dorothy called Toto he ran straight over to her and he licked her."

Julie added: "He was a stray, he came up from a friend of mine in the South. She was out and about and saw him at a service station on the M50. There was no microchip and she made enquiries if anybody owned the dog and put up posters but nobody came forward, and then she asked me if I would like him.

"We collected him last March and he would only have been about five or six months old then.

"He was very nervous at the start and very submissive, and I thought when he went on Sunday he would go back to being very panicky, but he took up the role and did everything that was asked. Maybe we have found an inner Archie. He is a cute wee thing, there is no badness in him."

Musical Society chairperson Tony Young said: "We have a new star indeed. It is a real rags to riches story, isn't it?"

He said they put it out on social media and mainstream media appealing for dogs to audition and, after a big response, only seven owners included a video of their dog responding to the name Toto. These contenders were whittled down to two, and Archie got the part.

"At our rehearsal on Sunday Archie was definitely a star. He responded to Toto. It didn't matter what we threw at that dog, he was going to do it, he wanted that part. I would say Julie had trained Archie. There was a little growl from the other dog and Archie got the part.

"We have to be very careful because the dog has to go on stage with not only our adult members but children as young as eight, and we need to be able to trust him. By March, hopefully, he will be ready for his big moment.

The Wizard Of Oz is at the Theatre At The Mill, Newtownabbey, from March 15-19.

Belfast Telegraph

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