Shimmering coat, strong bones and teeth- Miles the golden retriever had it all. Rocketing to fame as the face of Purina Dog Chow, Miles saw a promising commercial career derail in a shit-storm of betrayal and shame. In a few short years he went from man’s best friend to his own worst enemy.
Born on a farm in Santa Barbara, CA, Miles was adopted by Beverly Hills socialite and lip gloss aficionado Brittany van Vahlkershtott, who immediately recognized Miles’ irresistible cuteness and began taking him to auditions on the canine television commercial circuit. After appearing in the 2006 Adorable Puppies with Fuzzy Toys annual calendar series from Pet-Nauseum Publishing Co, Inc., Miles landed background work on the hit reality-TV series Dogs, 90210.
His big break came in 2008 when he won the lead in the Purina Dog Chow Commercial where the healthy golden retriever proves himself an ideal pet, catching a Frisbee in the park and happily wagging his tail while his owner, a cardigan/MBA/aftershave-white-single-guy-type, tenderly strokes Miles’ coat. Miles followed up his smash hit with a second Purina commercial, this time an ensemble drama featuring a pug, a cocker spaniel, and a golden doodle named Phillipa. Life was good for Miles, with frequent trips to the groomer, long walks on Manhattan Beach, and all the Goodness Gracious-brand Hula Lula chicken-jerky he could eat.
But the rabid dog-eat-dog world of canine-commercial stardom soon bit Miles. Purina balked at his five-figure super-star salary requirement and instead cast the younger, cheaper, and beta-testedly cuter Phillipa the Golden Doodle (Phillipa’s own career was cut tragically short in 2010, after years of abusing barbiturates and dietary supplements, when she was diagnosed with renal failure and kidney cancer, and euthanized) in their next commercial. Miles retreated to his Beverly Hills mansion with his tail between his legs.
“We were all devastated,” said Miles’ agent, Barry Rothermel. “One minute Miles was leaping in the grass with an all-American TV family, the next minute he was cast to the curb in favor of some young hussy with puppy-dog eyes. It’s all political anyway.”
“Miles wouldn’t play with any of his squeaky toys,” said owner van Vahlkershtott. “For weeks he just moped around, listlessly nudging his water dish, waiting for the mailman to come by so he could snarl through the window from our divan.”
Miles’ depression soon turned to rage. He began sneaking out at night and stalking the neighborhood, ravaging female dogs (and some cats) up and down Doheny Drive.
“You would never know he was neutered, the way he acted,” said rapper Jay Z, Miles’ neighbor and owner of a Pekingese Miles routinely wooed. “He seemed to have ninety-nine problems, but a bitch, apparently, wasn’t one.”
Van Vahlkershtott had no choice but to put him in therapy. For two years Miles visited Bel Air pet psychologist Dr. Chloe Johnstone-Gloss, DVM, four times a week, whereupon he was placed on Prozac for chronic depression and Ativan for depression-related anxiety disorder. During therapy it came to light that Miles felt inadequate as a pet, fearing he could never live up to his master’s obsessive walking regimens, nor earn enough money from his TV career to support her posh lifestyle. These dark days saw frequent incidents of vomit-inducing grass-eating, vicious cat-chasing, and one suicide attempt when Miles ran out across Sunset Blvd, ostensibly to capture a squirrel.
“I just couldn’t keep him after that,” said van Vahlkershtott, who abandoned Miles to a local animal shelter and went off in search of a dog which she felt would better understand her in spirit and soul.
Miles escaped from the shelter in 2011 after biting one of the handlers, thus beginning the nightmare of life on the street. He roamed from house to house in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, shitting on anybody’s lawn he felt like, sniffing random crotches in the park, scrounging food out of dumpsters in Little Osaka.
“That was a rough time in his life,” said Miles’ close friend, actor Corey Feldman. “We were out most nights chasing tail, hanging out behind nightclubs on the Strip, fritzed on Kibble and various pain-killers.”
Early 2012 saw more career set-backs for both Miles and Feldman, as financing for the duo’s attempted remake of Turner and Hooch fell through. Miles even tried to re-ingratiate himself with Purina, but reportedly showed up to commercial auditions grossly overweight, with his tongue constantly hanging out, his once-cheerful demeanor sullied by frequent and aggressive barking fits.
“He couldn’t even obey simple commands like ‘sit’ or ‘stay’,” said Mary Hollenbeck, Purina spokesperson. “His coat was scruffy, he had lost most of his teeth. He lifted his leg on everyone’s chairs. He was a bad dog.”
In October 2012 Miles was pulled over by Animal Control while running recklessly down the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu wearing nothing but his collar. After failing a breathalyzer test, Miles barked a series of slurred, disparaging comments about Samoyeds. Miles’ publicist was forced to deny that her client was an anti-Sam-ite.
It all could have ended with the needle, but LA-based animal rights group Better Animal Treatment Solutions (B.A.T.S.) rallied to Miles’ defense and sent the aging canine to Pet Promises Animal Rehabilitation Ranch. There Miles stopped eating shoes, gave up begging for treats, and learned that the sidewalks and driveways of upper West side Los Angeles were not his personal shitting grounds. He learned to ‘heel’ and ‘leave it,’ (“It” = cocaine) and gradually came to understand there was more to life than flashy commercials, Tiffany collars, and limitless back-stage butt-sniffing. In spring 2013 Miles was adopted by the Pagliarulos, a Brentwood family who recognized the charms of the once-beloved TV commercial star and adopted him.
“Everyone deserves a second-chance,” says Brett Pagliarulo. “Miles may once have been a neurotic superstar, squatting on Rodeo Drive, raiding various cupboards to support his biscuit habit. But these days he’s as mellow as Old Yeller.”
Miles has even started giving back to the community, barking to puppies during obedience-training seminars at a local PetCo about the temptations of stardom and dangers of excess.
“Give him an old tennis ball and he’s happy,” says Pagliarulo, while Miles lies quietly in the leafy shadows of his Brentwood yard, his nose whisker-deep in his own anus.
About the Author
ADAM MATSON's fiction has appeared internationally in several magazines, including Straylight Literary Magazine, Soundings East, The Bryant Literary Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Morpheus Tales, Infernal Ink Magazine, Crack the Spine, and The Indiana Voice Journal. He has also published a collection of short stories, Sometimes Things Go Horribly Wrong (Outskirts Press).