Bernadette Peters: Star of stage, screen and Aspen shelter |

Bernadette Peters: Star of stage, screen and Aspen shelter

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesActress, singer and dog lover Bernadette Peters appears in benefit events for the Aspen Animal Shelter Saturday and Sunday.

ASPEN – When Bernadette Peters performed over the Christmas holidays at the Wheeler Opera House, she devoted part of her show, as she always does, to her four-legged friends. A devout dog lover, Peters sang her own number, “Kramer’s Song,” from her children’s book, “Broadway Barks,” and also spoke to the audience about why adopting animals from shelters is preferable to buying them from dealers.

But Peters didn’t realize how deep into dog stuff she would be stepping that night. Another part of her routine is to go into the audience, pick out a guy, and sing to him, “There’s Nothing Like a Dame.” Given the layout of the Wheeler, however, Peters decided it would work best to pick the seat closest to the stage, sing to whomever happened to be sitting there, and cross her fingers hoping it was, in her word, “a fella.”

Peters got a guy – and then some. The occupant of the seat was Aspenite Seth Sachson, who has his own thing for dogs. The director of the Aspen Animal Shelter, Sachson is the face of pet-adoption and animal rescue in the upper valley. Peters sang to Sachson, but their dance did not end there. When someone clued her in to the fact that she and Sachson shared a passion for animals, the two got in touch the next day. Sachson asked her to visit the shelter – an unnecessary invitation, as it turns out.

“That was funny, because we were going to stop at the shelter on our way to the airport,” said Peters, speaking from Los Angeles.

The two bonded further, and Sachson visited Peters in New York, where she lives. Among the significant sights they saw in the Big Apple was the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition, a no-kill shelter which the singer-actress is associated with.

Peters has also become associated, at a distance, with the Aspen Animal Shelter. She takes advantage of the facility’s doggie-cam to watch Ellen, the cattle-dog/pitbull mix she walked while she was in Aspen. This weekend, Peters gets to visit Ellen in person; she appears here in benefit events today and Sunday to raise funds for the shelter. Peters will be at an 11 a.m. lunch Saturday at the shelter, and a dinner at a private home tonight. (Both events are available to the public; for tickets, call Sachson at 274-3043.) On Sunday evening, Peters, backed by a small orchestra, will perform at the Aspen District Theatre.

Yes, Peters once had a dog named Shithead. But that was in a movie (“The Jerk,” perhaps her most notable film role), and besides, she didn’t name the pooch. Off-screen, Peters couldn’t imagine talking badly of a dog. And since she “begged and begged and begged” her parents for a dog – and eventually, at the age of 9, got a golden retriever mix, Suzy, from New York’s Bideawee shelter, she has devoted much of her life to making sure dogs have happy homes.

In 1999, Peters and Mary Tyler Moore founded Broadway Barks, an annual New York City event that promotes the adoption of shelter animals. (Peters also professes a love for cats, though she is allergic. She has a particular affinity for Freddie, an Aspen shelter kitty.) At this year’s event, two weeks ago, 140 animals were adopted. Last year, Peters saw the publication of “Broadway Barks,” to promote the organization; she has a second book in the works – “Princess Pig,” about a pit bull who, ashamed of his breed, masquerades as a pig. Peters is also a rescuer, who goes to shelters that euthanize animals they can’t find homes for, and brings them to no-kill shelters.

Peters has placed two dogs, both from shelters, in her own: Kramer, who looks like the mutt Tramp from “Lady and the Tramp,” and a pit bull, Stella.

“I adore pit bulls,” she said. “They’re the most maligned dogs, but they’re the most lovely animals. They’ll do anything for you. And they’re very physical dogs.” Peters said it is those last two traits that have made the breed the dog-of-choice for violence-minded people. “They put cigarette butts out on them, feed them gun powder, to make them violent.”

For an actress who appears onstage in gowns, pit bulls aren’t the most likely choice of dog. But Sachson has seen Peters in dog-friendly mode.

“You see this woman making love to the piano onstage, and people are in awe of her voice and personality and image,” he said. “Then you drive to Brooklyn and see her down on the floor with a pit bull, eye to eye, no fear. I’m inspired by the depth of her compassion to rescue dogs.”

“I just feel for them,” said Peters, whose dream project is to turn “Broadway Barks” into an animated musical. “All they do is give you love. They’re companion animals. They’re only here to make our lives better, to be healing for us. We need to embrace them.”

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