Cancer-Surviving Dog Goes on to Star in Bruce Willis Movie

030One of the difficult parts of being a pet owner is the inevitable struggle of saying goodbye to them. Sometimes, however, just like humans our pets are given a second chance.

Bella, a wire fox terrier, has already made the most of her new lease on life.

Just a few weeks after undergoing intensive surgery to remove a cancerous mass, Bella was cast in the upcoming film “Moonrise Kingdom.” Healthy and happy, Bella and owner Lucia Hackett, a Grafton resident and who works in human resources at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, have rebounded tremendously from a bumpy and stressful couple of months.

“She had a little upset stomach and that’s why we brought her in [to Tufts Veterinary Hospital],” Hackett said. “They do a full body check, and that’s when they found the lump.”

Vets found an advanced mass cell tumor near Bella’s chest, and also found cancer in a nearby lymph node. Friend and Tufts vet Mary Labato knew Hackett from when they brought their dogs to an agility training session, and Labato felt Bella had a strong chance of recovery after surgery.

“It was such a surprise, because she was as healthy as could be up to that point,” Hackett said.

In mid-March of this year, Bella underwent surgery. The mass and the lymph node were removed. When a gland further up the shoulder showed no signs of cancer, the surgery was deemed a success.

028Within the first week, Bella was showing signs of recovery and regaining the energy that endeared her to Hackett, who adopted the terrier as a three-and-a-half year old retired show dog. On her first night home after surgery however, Hackett knew Bella was going to make it. Hackett and Bella slept in the kitchen that night to keep Bella from trying to climb onto the bed. In the middle of the night, Hackett woke up to a surprise.

“I heard her get up, and she started licking my face, and her tail was wagging,” said Hackett. “The only thing I could think is that she was saying, ‘I’m not in the hospital, I’m home, you’re here. Don’t worry. It’s going to be OK.’ I could literally feel that from her.”

A couple weeks later, Hackett discovered the listing for the movie “Moonrise Kingdom,” a Wes Anderson film which was seeking a trained wire fox terrier to be on set with a cast that included Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Bill Murray.

Hackett was apprehensive about Bella’s ability to perform so soon after the surgery, but she wanted to be positive about the situation and sent a picture of Bella to Gleanna Doyle, who is somewhat of an agent for animals in films. Almost immediately, Hackett received a response saying they wanted Bella.

She spent nine days in total filming with the crew around Rhode Island, mostly in Newport, although Hackett is not allowed to reveal the details of Bella’s part, as the movie is not due to be released until the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012.

As it turns out, Bella is the perfect dog for the acting world. Not needing a lot of attention, Bella can be low-maintenance and is happy just to be around people. It’s the perfect combination when you’ve got a scene to complete and the dog on set isn’t climbing on people and barking.

“She can do a part and be with people without jumping on them and wanting kisses and everything,” Hackett said. “She can be a little aloof, which is great for that kind of work. With all the cameras, lights, and the people running around, she’s just like, ‘How many times do you want me to do it?'”

Even transporting Bella to the set was a breeze. Bella loved the road trips to Providence, where Hackett would drop Bella off with Doyle, who brought the dog to that day’s location.

“I’d drive Bella down to outside of Providence to meet her agent [Doyle], and I told Bella, ‘You’re going to Newport for the day.’ And her tail was wagging, ‘See you later, mom!'”

Re-takes weren’t a problem for the terrier, either. No matter how many times the cast had to re-shoot a scene, Hackett said, she would still get emails from Doyle saying how easy it was having Bella on set.

“Moonrise Kingdom” was not the first foray onto the screen for Bella, however. Before getting sick, Bella made a cameo appearance on Animal Planet’s “Dogs 101″ in 2009 (during the opening credits of the wire fox terrier episode, Bella is the one standing and smiling next to the “Dogs 101” logo). Before that, she made an appearance on “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” on PBS, which was actually filmed on the Tufts campus.

Bella also has awards from obedience and Earth Dog competitions, an event where terriers track rats through partially-covered tunnels by sent.

Hackett says it takes a certain “tenacity” to be an Earth Dog. It seems it was that tenacity that helped Bella keep fighting her way back to health.

“She was a pretty sick girl when she came out of the hospital. But it only took about a week. She started healing quickly and wanting to go outside,” Hackett said.

Today, Bella is back to her old self. She even got distracted by a squirrel on campus during her interview. And her owner is simply happy to continue providing a happy home for Bella while she continues her second career.

Part-time show dog, part-time actress, Bella never stops going. And never gave up.

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