Tessa Hayashida, center, works with Lucky, the three-legged pup cast as Sandy in Community Little Theatre’s upcoming production of “Annie.” Lucky’s trainer, Christy Gardner, and her service dog, Moxie, look on. Submitted photo

AUBURN — Lucky’s lived hard knocks, having a misshapen right leg amputated at just 12 weeks old, and now he’s bound for the limelight.

The 10-month-old, three-legged service-pup-in-training with Christy Gardner has been cast as Sandy in Community Little Theatre’s new production of “Annie.”

“The kids, all of them, took to (Lucky) immediately, as well as the cast,” said Director Paul Caron. “I think he’s a ham — he knows his audience and he knows how to play to the audience.”

When the theater put out feelers for a dog for the show, he said Jennifer McClure-Groover, a teacher at Leeds Central School recommended Lucky. Gardner, an army veteran and double-amputee, is at the school once a week and hopes the yellow Lab eventually becomes a therapy dog there.

“His training is going great,” Gardner said. “He’s only got one area left to master: He gets a little too excited and gives too many kisses.”

She was up for the challenge after getting the unexpected theater invite.


“He’s a very smart boy, so I figured it might work,” Gardner said. “His first rehearsal was terrible because neither of us knew what he needed to do and because the girl playing Annie has never had a dog. Lucky didn’t know her so he wouldn’t listen to her and just looked at me.”

With more practice, he and Tessa Hayashida, the 13-year-old actress from Auburn playing Annie, hit it off.

“(Christy) was able to train Lucky to do exactly what we need on stage,” said Caron. “It can’t be barking, rolling around and doing anything; it has to obey the commands and it has to act — we needed an actor.”

Using a mix of treats and commands, Lucky’s on stage both on a leash and loose during the performance, and watches Tessa as she sings. The plan is to have Gardner stay out of view, in the wings.

She laughed that, yes, she does have some “stage mom” nerves.

“He’s been practicing without an audience so I’m not sure how he’ll react when they clap or cheer,” Gardner said. “I’m hoping that his presence helps teach people to push their limits. You’re not stuck in one role in your life, and sometimes you lose a job or something doesn’t work out. You have to be able to adapt and jump into something new.”

CLT is performing “Annie” for the third time in its history with a cast of 26 actors, including seven playing orphans. The new production kicks off Oct. 18 and runs through Oct. 27.

“Whenever you do a show with kids and a dog, you can’t lose,” said Caron. “The first time the dog comes out, the audience will eat that up, that’s my prediction.”

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