By Barbara Anne Kirshner
Several years ago, on a Saturday, as I flipped through the channels on the television, I came upon a reality show titled Lucky Dog. As an animal lover, I was curious to find out “Why were these dogs so lucky?” I got my answer in affable host and trainer, Brandon McMillan, who seemed committed to securing forever homes for unwanted shelter dogs.
Each week, Mc Millan took his audience on a journey that featured an “unadoptable” canine. Through his seven common commands of sit, stay, down, come, off, heel and no, the discarded dog transformed into a loving, well-behaved pet. McMillan then matched the dog to perspective owners and even conducted lifestyle training to further meld animal to adopter. In one instance, McMillan taught a dog to surf so he could join his new buddy on the waves.
The scenario of the show was always the same. It began with McMillan at his Lucky Dog Ranch training a rescue when the distress call from a local animal shelter alerted him of an overlooked dog headed for euthanasia. McMillan dashed to the shelter at the eleventh hour, headed down that sterile hallway of gated scared dogs until he faced the one needing instant saving. He would open the gate, go inside the kennel, sit next to the cowering creature, speaking gently all the while. Once the canine settled, McMillan would say, “Let’s get out of here.” And off they happily went together.
The first stop was at the vet for a complete physical that confirmed the dog was healthy for training, then off to McMillan’s Lucky Dog Ranch where a red training collar was snapped on followed by introductions to other lucky dog rescues. McMillan then matched the dog to the best adopter and did a home inspection. In one episode, he arranged for sod to make the backyard dog friendly.
Then came the magical day when the rescue would meet the forever family. In the final scene, McMillan always delighted the adopters by showing up unannounced with new charge in tow. As a sign that the dog had completed training, McMillan would replace the red collar with a green graduation collar then kiss the dog and turn it over to the happy new owners. Cue the violin strings and take out your tissues! I always dissolved in happy tears for the lucky dog and the lucky family.
The mantra, ”From hopeless to home, that’s our mission, one dog at a time” was the final sound cue over the credits.
At the start of January 2021, I and millions of other Lucky Dog followers were suddenly struck with the disappointment of no show! At first, I thought it had been pre-empted for a week, but on the following Saturday still no Lucky Dog. That’s when I googled the show and discovered Brandon McMillan had stepped away from his Emmy award winning series.
In an Instagram post dated October 2020, McMillan announced that his 182nd episode was his last. The reason given for this sudden departure was clashes with CBS over the direction the show was headed.
“As the years went on big money started pouring into the show which meant more cooks in the kitchen making decisions. This is where Hollywood can take a great idea and turn it into a money driven business.”
“When the fun gets taken out of a tv show then it’s no longer fun to show up. This was a serious show that saved the lives of hundreds of dogs. Mission accomplished. But this is not the end … it’s just the beginning.”
For McMillan fans like me, he left us with a glimmer of hope that he would continue saving dogs and maybe start a new animal series.
Last Saturday, I happened onto CBS at 10 a.m. and to my surprise I heard the Lucky Dog theme and saw the Lucky Dog Ranch logo. My euphoria however was quickly squashed when the images of a husband and wife team, Eric Wiese and Rashi Khanna Wiese, replaced McMillan as the hosts.
The scenario remained the same with a few minor changes. At the start of this episode, instead of McMillan training a rescue dog, Wiese was training his own dog. Isn’t the rescue message missing in that? Tasks were split with Wiese training while his wife matched dog to owner. Another difference was instead of McMillan’s trademark red training collar followed by the green graduation collar; Wiese started with a silver tag traded for a gold tag.
Every other aspect of the old show remained intact making this a weird déjà vu experience. There was the anxious call from the shelter alerting imminent euthanasia for an unwanted dog. They even had a Lucky Dog Ranch, but there were no dogs in training. Wiese incorporated McMillan’s same seven training commands plus the lifestyle lesson. Then the ultimate “good-bye” with dog handed to family. The final mantra was even the same. One can only hope McMillan is collecting royalties for the use of all his ideas.
But will the Lucky Dog fans accept these two new hosts? They seem pleasant, but McMillan’s passion for saving animals is missing. Everything is calculated with no original stamp from this couple and how long have they have been in the dog training business? Their Lucky Dog Ranch was empty. CBS took pains to copy the award winning formula, but in my opinion, this version will fail without McMillan at the helm to swoop in wearing his heart on his sleeve saving dogs and loyal viewers alike.
Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”