Meet your Neighbour: Melissa Millett, animal trainer extraordinaire
Melissa Millett, poses with one of her trained cats (Source: Melissa Millett)
LONDON, ONT. -- Training a dog to sit or stay can be a difficult task, but imagine training a cat – to ride a scooter? It takes patience, love, and respect for animals, all of which Melissa Millet demonstrates while training.
Millett always loved dogs, but couldn't have a pet when she was younger, so as soon as she bought her first home, she adopted her first dog. That was when her passion for training began.
"I trained in dog sports for a while, and then ended up apprenticing to become a dog trainer," Millett says.
Melissa Millett with Sashimi riding a scooter in one of their shows (Source: Melissa Millett)
When Millett opened her own training school, In Dogs we Trust, she began to teach complex tricks to her own pets in order to promote her skills. It was when she and her animals presented a trick show at Ribfest London that an agent contacted her about the presentation.
"By accident, a trick show became a second career," Millett says describing her company, Ultimutts.
The large shows that she produced were not easy to execute.
"The distractions are out of this world! Screaming fans, cheering, the dogs love it, food, clowns, petting zoos, other dogs. You really need to make the work FUN to keep their attention."
Of course, there are some people that feel that training pets is unfair to the animals. Millett tells a very different version of what training does.
"Dogs were bred for thousands of years to have a job! Using positive reinforcement to train, and finding out what your dog excels at creates an incredible life for an animal. Most complaints from pet owners could be resolved with finding a purpose for the dog. That is what makes dog sports wonderful for decreasing behavioral issues and developing a strong bond with the owner."
She feels that views hold true when anyone sees her animals perform.
Popcorn shows off some training in an Ultimutts performance (Source: Melissa Millett)
Millett's career took a tragic turn while driving home on the 401 from a show on June 21, 2015. With her daughter and five dogs onboard, another driver struck her, sending her vehicle rolling, releasing the dog crate onto the highway.
Although riddled with injuries she, her daughter, and four of her beloved pets survived the accident.
As Millett woke up in the hospital the next day, she discovered two of her dogs were missing all night and Pickles ran scared for nine hours on the median of the highway.
Sadly, Butters passed away when she was struck by another vehicle.
Somehow, Millett went on.
"It was a lot to get them back into the crates, to get comfortable with loud noises again. We had to have people cuddle them in seatbelts in the car for a while."
She and her dogs worked hard to get back to doing what they loved to do - perform.
Currently, Millett has seven dogs and two cats that perform in her shows. They live in the country with a massive fenced-in area, a heated 40'x40' indoor training shop for all of the animals to train, exercise, and play.
Millett's well-trained animals caught the attention of the entertainment industry, and have appeared in various commercials and movies, such as Pet Sematary, Christmas Chronicles, and Fractured.
Tonic, aka Church the cat in Pet Sematary (Source: Melissa Millett)
Although the pandemic saw the movie and live-show industry nearly grind to a halt, she believes that as these industries begin to come back, so will their shows.
"We are hopeful for a 2021 season, but grateful for all the time to learn additional tricks. We have auditioned for some massive TV shows and are still finding opportunities in other avenues. We are performing tricks for friends in social distance situations and hoping to add positive energy to this troubled time through online trick videos."
The silver lining to a slowed production schedule has meant time for her and her pets to relax and bond at home. Something they have not shared in many years.