News Item | PAWS Chicago

Meet Ned

by Danielle Gordon | Aug 03, 2016

PAWS Chicago Alum & ABC-TV’s New Star

In an amazing rags-to-riches story, PAWS Chicago alumnus pup, Ned, has become a television personality who will  star in the new ABC-TV comedy Downward Dog, according to a recent announcement from the network.

The show is based on a web series about struggling millennial Nan and her dog Martin. Nan is played by Emmy-nominated Allison Tolman from Fargo. Ned takes the role of Martin, the contemplative stay-at-home dog who talks directly to the camera about his feelings about Nan, his housemate cat and life in general.

In the show’s trailer, Martin explains he doesn’t always feel respected for his contributions to the household. Nan works 60 hours a week for a boss who calls her “girl,” and is obviously devoted to her dog. But Martin thinks that when Nan says she’s going to work, she’s really just “driving around.”

Ned sees his own days as packed with responsibilities, chores and dangers: He has to sleep for at least 14 hours a day,  plus deal with “threats” like the vacuum cleaner and   of course the household cat, whom he considers to be an “emotional terrorist.”

While the show is funny, it’s also about friendship and the deep bonds between humans and animals. “Life isn’t always a walk in the park in this dog eat dog world,” according to the trailer, but sometimes your best friend is already walking right beside you.

Martin knows why his relationship with Nan is so complicated: “I am just scared because it’s so vulnerable to love someone this much, to know that no matter what they do or how mad you get you’ll always come back to them. I literally can’t quit her.”

Little is known about where Ned came from or how he started on his road to television celebrity. He first entered the public eye when he came to PAWS from a shelter in rural Mississippi in July 2014 at about one year of age.

He was with PAWS for over a year, and even had to go through two heartworm treatments as the first one didn’t kill all of the parasites. Ned was adopted out in June 2015 but returned a few weeks later because he was “not a good fit” in his new home.

Over this period, Ned became a favorite of the staff and volunteers he met along the way. He was a play group all-star, getting along well with other dogs. He was particularly good at teaching new puppies about manners. One little-known fact about Ned’s time at PAWS is that his best friend, a dog named Yule, is now a trained police dog who received his narcotics certification in March.

Those who got to know Ned said he was a sweet, sensitive boy who loves to cuddle. He liked learning commands and knew sit, down, touch and come. According to his foster family, Ned got along well with their cat, but did have a high prey drive. They added that “Ned is a wonderful house guest who is house trained and gets along well with other dogs, especially puppies!”

But even with these good reviews, Ned may not have been picked as most likely to make it as a TV star.

While at PAWS, Ned had to be put on medication because he was so anxious. He was afraid of thunder and other loud noises, large people, strollers and kids. He also growled at other animals and strangers, barked and whined in his crate, and even tried to chew through a wall. He was a great escape artist and tended to get car sick.

Officially, Ned was diagnosed with possible generalized anxiety, noise phobia, separation anxiety, fear/territorial aggression and kennel stress. His medical history shows that when he was assessed, he “repeatedly turns quickly away when touched, or repeatedly spins toward the touch, and repeatedly tries to exit.”

But despite all these challenges, PAWS staff and volunteers kept working with Ned, giving him additional training and socialization through the special PAWS Gold Star program for dogs with behavioral issues. And PAWS kept looking for a very special adopter for this very special dog.

Joy Ronstadt, a professional animal trainer, met Ned at the Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center in September 2015. At this point, “he had been in and out of shelters for a year and a half, was on anti-anxiety medications, and had bitten people through displaced excitement/anxiety while out on walks,” Joy recalls.

But she saw past all of Ned’s challenges. “When I first saw Ned’s picture, it was his eyes that grabbed me. Then I started learning more about his story,” Joy says.

“It can be incredibly rewarding for people who want to develop a very strong bond with a dog to adopt one of our Gold Star pets,” says Joan Harris, Director of Training at PAWS. “Many of these dogs are intelligent and require more mental stimulation. Additionally, they often have been neglected or abused, or just never been socialized, and need someone dedicated to giving them consistency and building their trust.”

After the adoption, Joy reported: “Ned is doing absolutely amazing! We have been working on socialization, getting used to environments and meeting dogs on leash. I’m so impressed with all the efforts everyone there made, and I think they helped lay a solid foundation. Ned has adjusted so well. We have had zero issues thus far.”

Joy’s job as a trainer for animal talent agency Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife took her and Ned to California. Working Wildlife has more than 100 animal actors who have appeared in thousands of commercials, feature films and TV shows, including Parks & Recreation (raccoons), How I Met Your Mother (chimp) and Grey’s Anatomy (bear).

Joy has trained a wide variety of exotic animals, such as hyenas, bears and skunks, but since starting her current job at Working Wildlife in 2013, she has mostly focused on dogs and a couple of potbelly pigs.

After Ned and Joy relocated to the West Coast, Joy wrote to PAWS that “he’s loving the weather out here and thoroughly enjoying life outside the shelter. He is off all his anti-anxiety medications and has done great with meeting new people and going new places. He is truly a blessing in my life.”

Ned was discovered when a director and writer for Downward Dog saw a picture of him and absolutely fell in love. “We gave it a shot to see how ‘Neddy Pants’ did with the training, and he LOVES it. He has really blossomed into a fantastic dog,” Joy says. “The first time I taught him to bark on cue, you could see a little light come alive in his eyes, and his tail started wagging. From there, I could tell he was going to have some fun with it.”

Joy says life as a TV star has not changed Ned much and she doesn’t think his new-found fame will go to his head: “It’s far less glamorous than one would think. There’s a lot of laying around and waiting, but there’s also a lot of love from the cast and crew on set. Short bursts of working, and then more waiting.”

In the trailer for the first episode of Downward Dog, viewers can see that Ned brings something special to the role of Martin, but there are differences between the actor and the part he plays, Joy says. “Ned is a lot less familiar with people than Martin is. Ned spent the majority of his life not having a home or one person, so I think he hasn’t experienced the same dependency and disappointment–as well as joy–that Martin has.”

If you are looking for your own special Martin to walk beside you, Joy offers the following advice when picking a dog that could become your best friend: “Think about your own life and what kind of dog suits you. Do you live in a small apartment or a house with a yard? How much time do you have to devote to your dog? How long will he/ she be alone? Do you want a very active dog that you can go running with? Do you want a mellow dog? Look for personality traits when you go to a shelter more than for a specific breed. You will be amazed at what you find in the unexpected dog.”

Rather than viewing behaviorally or socially challenged dogs as “not adoptable” or “having too much baggage,” the PAWS Chicago Gold Star training and enrichment program works with these special pets to prepare them for  adoption and matches them with adoptive homes that can help them thrive.

Each dog rescued by PAWS has experienced loss, and some have suffered illness and emotional or physical damage. Some are scarred from past experiences. Abuse, neglect, trauma and improper socialization can cause them to be anxious or overprotective.

For dogs that have had a bumpy start to life or exhibit challenging behaviors, PAWS’ Gold Star program is designed to provide the support they need to prepare for adoption. Through the PAWS Training Center, expert trainers and volunteers, these dogs are given customized exercise, enrichment and rehabilitation.

 PAWS knows that with the right training and structured environment, these dogs can overcome behavioral challenges. And the hard work is paying off: 153 Gold Star dogs found new homes in 2015, up from 122 in 2014.

Look who’s gone home! Earlier this year, Gold Star dog Persie left PAWS to join her devoted new family. This rough-and-tumble, happy-go-lucky pup went to a home with lots of room to run and play, and a canine sibling to keep her company.

“Persie is having a blast in her new rural home. She often sniffs the bases of all the trees and occasionally stands on her hind legs with her front legs on the tree looking up! We think she is a tree hugger for sure,” her new family wrote.

Persie took longer than many dogs to find the right home because of her high energy level and need for space to run and play. Even with the special training and attention she received at the Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center and organized weekly fun runs, city life just wasn’t right for this dog. Persie needed a big area to explore and activities to keep her busy.

To help Persie, PAWS Chicago called on its friends at A Closer Bond Dog Community Center (, northwest suburban Chicago’s all-inclusive canine center, to give Persie the personal training and attention needed to get her ready for her adoptive home. “We are proud to have been working with PAWS Chicago to help Persie find her new home, by having her board and train with us. It just warms our heart to be able to be a part of her life,” says Katy Cushing, CEO and Director of Training for A Closer Bond.

“A Closer Bond is raising the bar on pet care. We understand the uniqueness every family and pet brings and will develop engaging activities and training to ensure a closer bond and a lifetime of companionship between families and their pets. We bring out the best in each relationship by helping dogs and humans create a common way of communicating.”