When Bert Davis, his wife, Frannie, and their trained dogs made it to the 2010 third round of “America’s Got Talent” they were the only animal act to make it to Las Vegas. By then they had racked up numerous awards and accolades behind them, having traveled across the United States, Canada, and Australia.
Their act, “The Muttley Crew,” is a troupe of trained dogs that jump through hoops, race barrels, and leap over, through, and around Bert, performing tricks on voice and hand commands. Each dog has its own personality and loves the stage. “Each animal is different,” so it takes 6 to 8 months to train each dog, beginning at 18 months to two years of age. Because each show is always changing, training is ongoing. One dog is taught to do the opposite of others: “sit” means “stand” to this dog.
Positive reinforcement and repetition is utilized, as treats are not practical; “we can’t bring treats in the ring, and if you go into or out of the U.S., the treats can be confiscated,” says Bert. Watching the dogs practice and perform, one can see these dogs love to work. One collie mix is so happy to be in the spotlight, he tries to do the tricks for his fellow dogs! The dogs have a special bond with the Davises. Perhaps because each dog has been rescued from dog pounds and shelters across the country. Some were close to being put to death. “Dogs know when they are hours from (euthanasia),” Bert says gravely.
Most of the Crew is mixed breeds that had been given up by previous owners; now they entertain thousands of people a year. Bert and Frannie will put over 80,000 miles on their motor home traveling to various rodeos, fundraisers, and special events. This is their life’s work.
In 1974, 16-year-old Bert Davis was the youngest bullfighter (later called ‘rodeo clowns’) in the nation when he met a young, barrel racing, 4H-er named Frannie at a rodeo dance. She asked him to dance; he admitted he wasn’t a dancer. So they sat on the rodeo bleachers and talked for hours. The courtship lasted long distance through love letters and chance meetings on the rodeo circuit.
Finally, in 2003, the two combined their love for rodeo, animals, and one another in a wedding ceremony. They are an excellent team both onstage and off. Both of their faces light up when in the other’s presence. “I’m lucky enough to be with someone who loves the performing life,” Bert smiles. Both will tell you they love traveling the United States together and have met some wonderful people. When the Muttley Crew sees either Frannie or Bert, tails wag furiously and excited yelps fill the air. This is definitely a special family with special talents.
The Muttley Crew will be performing at Pet Fest on Saturday, March 16, 2014 at the Adams Center located at the University of Montana in Missoula.