Tour the Home of a Family of 3 — and 31 Dogs

Broadway’s go-to dog trainer Bill Berloni has a 90-acre plot with ample room for his extended canine family.

Photo: Dorothy Berloni
Photo: Dorothy Berloni

Bill Berloni is known as Broadway’s go-to dog trainer, so when he built his family home in Connecticut, he needed to accommodate more than himself and his wife and daughter. He needed space for — get ready — 31 dogs. His 90-acre plot provides ample room for his extended canine family and even includes a barn for his two horses, two pigs, and a donkey.

This Friday, the Drama League presents its 83rd annual awards. Along with industry giants — like Bette Midler, who will receive a Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater award, and Michael Greif, an Excellence in Directing award — Berloni will get the honor for Unique Contribution to the Theatre. Berloni rose to acclaim in 1977, during Annie’s original Broadway run, after saving a shelter dog from euthanization and training him for the role of Annie’s pet dog, Sandy. The original Sandy performed for five years on Broadway, starring alonside actresses including Andrea McArdle and Sarah Jessica Parker. Artist Peggy Kauffman sculpted the statue of Sandy seen here that greets visitors at the doors of Berloni’s house. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Berloni and his wife, Dorothy, built their house and barn eight years ago. The 90-acre plot gives every animal the run of the outdoors, some of which is seen here. When Bill isn’t rehearsing his dogs for parts in Broadway plays, commercials, or movies, he’s working as director of animal behavior and training at the Humane Society of New York. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Besides the 31 dog roommates (30 of which were rescues), the Berlonis and their daughter, Jenna, share their house with a snarky parrot named Kevin. The house has an open living room, dining room, and kitchen, but to keep things in order, Berloni uses doggie gates to section the space off into thirds. (The canines get to move into different spaces throughout the day, to spend time with their owners.) Kevin’s domain is on the right. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Dogs share rooms according to size: the big dogs, the medium-size dogs, and the little dogs — their door is seen here. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Berloni’s basement rehearsal room sports an assortment of furniture and stage props similar to those the dogs will work with in a performance. Posters from shows Bill has worked on — like The Crucible; The Audience, with Dame Helen Mirren; Bullets Over Broadway; Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Camelot, Frankenstein, and Peter Pan Live!, as well as TV shows Mr. Robot and Sesame Street — line the walls. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Berloni records each dog’s progress in notebooks. Like a true dog-whisperer, Berloni works according to instinct, taking long periods of time to understand each animal’s character. “I’ve never read a training manual, and I’ve never taken a class,” he says. “You have to listen; they tell you who they are.” Berloni says he looks for two things in a dog: “I need to see their friendliness with people and how they handle stress.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
A poster for Because of Winn-Dixie, one of the Berlonis’ latest projects. Bowdie, one of Berloni’s dogs, co-stars. The Berlonis train non-canines, too, but say the work is much tougher. “The cat in Lieutenant of Inishmore, the rat in Woman in White” were challenging, Dorothy says. She also recalls the moment in the beginning of this particular production of The Crucible’s second act, where a wolf — played by a dog — walks across the stage alone. “The hard part,” Dorothy says, “was that there was no one onstage at all to command him.” But the scene worked: When the dog-as-wolf stopped mid-stage to look at the audience, it chilled the room. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Bowdie’s previous owners gave him up in 2014, and Berloni first trained him for the role of Nana in Peter Pan Live! on NBC. Since then Bowdie has starred in a music video and a Rachael Ray commercial. Photo: Dorothy Berloni
“I don’t teach dogs tricks,” Berloni says, “I teach them how to listen to humans.” When Berloni rehearses an animal for a part, he conducts two 20-minute sessions a day. Photo: Dorothy Berloni
Berloni co-wrote Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescued Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars with his brother-in-law Jim Hanrahan. The book chronicles how Berloni went from studying acting to training animals to winning a Tony in 2011 for Excellence in Theatre. Another career highlight: responding to an urgent call from photographer Richard Avedon, who needed Berloni’s on-set finesse to handle a boa constrictor. Berloni calmed the snake and draped it over actress and model Nastassja Kinski; the shoot, originally for Vogue in 1981, produced a famous poster that went on to auction at Christie’s. Photo: Courtesy of Lyons Press
Berloni at home with his tribe of small dogs. From left to right, on the seat: Roxie, Minnie, Romeo, Chico, Rocco. Left to right, on the back cushions: Lila and Frankie. At the end of the day, each little dog, plus Bowdie, finds its place on Dorothy and Bill’s bed. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Tour the Home of a Family of 3 — and 31 Dogs