Let’s All Quit Our Jobs And Become Cat Trainers

Meet Dawn Barkan, Hollywood’s preeminent cat trainer:

You know her work: Her credits include Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Runaway Bride, and Snow Dogs, and she’s the trainer — please don’t call her a “wrangler” (that’s for sheep and cows) — responsible for Mr. Jinx being able to use the toilet in Meet the Parents.

Dawn Barkan trained the three cats who starred as the one cat in that new Coen Bros. movie Llewyn Davis. You know, that sepia-toned movie you saw previews for, with the sad-sack guy who has no coat but he does have a guitar and a cat? Anyway, about the cat:

It would seem like the stunts for this film would be simpler than potty-training. But in an interview with Vulture, Barkan says that elements of this job, her first time working with the Coens, were among her most challenging. “Much of what was scripted is a scary thing for a cat,” she says. “[But the Coens have] worked with animals in just about every film they’ve done, so they had an idea of what it takes.”

With six weeks to prep five rescue cats — two were fired prior to shooting for “temperament” issues — Barkan played to the strengths of the remaining trio. Tigger, a female, was the “holding” cat, the one Llewyn Davis carries around everywhere. Jerry was the “action” cat because he proved adept at “patterning” — a series of behaviors rewarded with a treat, like chicken. And Daryl was “the laid-back dude who could be put in hairier situations,” says Barkan. So that’s Jerry in the more sedate subway scenes, and Daryl whenever the subway stations and cars are overcrowded or too thunderous. At one point, Barkan says, even the usually chill Daryl got spooked by the noise and jostling, and clipped Isaac in the face. “For weeks, I said it wasn’t a good idea to shoot in a live subway station,” she says. “An actor getting scratched, I don’t ever want that to happen.”

Barkan hired Tigger, Jerry, and Daryl for Inside Llewyn Davis from outside sources, but Barkan cares for three of her own cats, including Peanut, 14, and Charlie, 8, the remaining Himalayans who portrayed Mr. Jinx. (Mischa, the original Meet the Parents toilet-flusher, and the other members of the Focker menagerie are long gone.)

Actually I am allergic to cats so could never do this, but something to think about.

Photo: glennwilliamspdx

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4 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

Isn’t “herding cats” an expression suggesting extreme difficulty? Also I am allergic to cats and would die wheezing. Other than that, i’m up for it.

stinapag (#2,144)

I saw this a few weeks ago. If it rolls through your town, I highly recommend it. http://www.circuscats.com/

Bonnie St. Clair (#2,949)

@stinapag Ha, this looks great!

Bonnie St. Clair (#2,949)

This is one of the answers I give when people ask me what my dream job would be! Because I really love the idea of working with cats/animals, but I’m not sure I could handle all of the sad situations that would be a daily part of working at an animal shelter or in a veterinarian’s office.

Also, it’s probably just a sign that I’ve spent too much time watching 30 Rock, but I love that the cat trainer in the Vulture article owns a cat named Peanut, just like Rachel Dratch’s weird cat-trainer character on 30 Rock. “You will be hearing from Peanut’s lawyer!”

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