By Kim Tae-jong
Just a few years ago, Jenny probably spent her days wandering the streets, her long blond hair tangled and dirty, looking for something to eat. Abandoned by her family, her life was hanging by a thread.
But since then, she has undergone a dramatic transformation into the long-legged star in movies or commercials you see today.
This sounds, perhaps, the kind of rags-to-riches story that has often been told before. But here's the twist: Jenny is a dog.
Behind the success of the 10-year-old Afghan Hound is Igloo, the nation's largest pet management company, which now takes care of some 90 dogs of 43 different kinds like Jenny, along with two cats.
"Almost two thirds of the animals here were abandoned in the past by their original owners", said Kim Eun-jin, co-president of Igloo. "But most of them are now stars who have experience of working for films or commercials".
The celebrities at Igloo include Baru (Basset Hound) starring in last year's Romantic Comedy
", Duna (Maltese) from the 2000 film "A Love Story" and Ddongssagae (Golden Retriever) from the 2003 "Au Revoir, UFO
"As a film is made based on the reality and pets have become part of our ordinary life, dogs and cats appear more often in movies and dramas", Kim added
Kim started the pet entertainment business with about 10 dogs in 1999 with her husband Hwang Oun-young, and now they also run a dog cafe where pet lovers can play with various dogs, a training center where pets are tamed to live suitably with people and a pension where travelers can stay with their pets.
Since the 2000 feature film "Barking Dogs Never Bite
" by director Bong Joon-ho
, the animals from the company have appeared in more than 30 local movies along with numerous commercials.
"As the local movie industry has been successful over the past 10 years, the demands for pets that can `act' in movies have also been on the increase", Hwang said.
According to the couple, a "star" dog can earn an average of 700,000 won for one day shooting, which is comparatively high, given that an extra actor gets paid about 50,000 won a day.
"But it's not true that their salary is exceptionally high as people don't consider that their salary includes all the money that we spend on them. And most importantly, we also work hard behind the scenes for our pets to act properly", Hwang said.
When their dogs or cats are chosen for a film, Hwang usually starts working with film staff to change some parts of a scenario to make it more realistic and natural for their pets to act.
But Hwang said there is no other special preparation or training for their pets for certain scenes or roles. All he does for them at sets or locations is just help them do what they do in a natural environment as he believes that good acting of their pets is nothing but doing natural things as they would in their ordinary life.
"It seems that people think a well-tamed dog can act brilliantly. But they could be very wrong. At sets or locations, things are totally different from where they live and get trained, which makes them really nervous", Hwang said.
Although dogs at Igloo don't have any special tricks or skills to show off like circus dogs, Hwang and Kim believe that they can show their companionship for human beings very naturally.
As they have to deal with new environments and meet new people at their dog cafe all the time, they can be a friend to anybody under any circumstances, Hwang explained.