Stargate Set Visit: Canines Reduce Stress

If you’re an actor or crew person and have a pooch for a pet, there’s no better place to work and relax with your four-legged friend than at Bridge Studios in Vancouver, Canada. That's where the hit SyFy series Stargate: Universe is filmed; also produced there are the best-selling Stargate and Stargate Atlantis direct to DVD movies, based on those successful series in the Stargate franchise.

The set “went to the dogs” 11 years ago when the first Stargate series began and continues to be the most dog friendly TV and movie set in the entire world, as actor Robert Picardo (of Star Trek: Voyager fame) found out when he joined Stargate: Atlantis for its fifth and final season as Atlantis’ new mission commander, Richard Woolsey.

“There are dogs everywhere at Vancouver’s Bridge Studios, where we shoot at,” marvels Picardo. “There are dogs up in the production office, in the production meetings, and in many of the actor’s trailers on different days.”

Both Picardo and his wife Linda were just thrilled to know that their Chihuahua “Buddy” and Chihuahua mix “Lola” would be welcomed on the Stargate lot at all times. Buddy and Lola’s introduction to the pooches of the Pegasus Galaxy (the universe in which Stargate: Atlantis is set), however, was quite the doggie drama.

“We went to the makeup trailer,” recalls Picardo, “and there’s Lucy, a squat mini pincher owned by Leah, the head of the makeup department. Lucy kind of holds sway over the makeup trailer. It’s her turf so she barked a blue streak until we took her outside to meet “Buddy” and “Lola” on neutral territory.” Then she was absolutely delightful.”

In fact, Lucy was a little too “delightful” with Buddy for Lola’s taste. “Lola, who considers herself “Buddy’s” mate if you will, was quite jealous. Whenever another female comes in to challenge her relationship with her live-in male, she does bark quite a bit. But I understand that’s common among many females. She was just protecting her man.”

Picardo really knew he was on the most dog friendly lot in the world when he saw “the pooch scoop stations,” located conveniently around the studios, in which the cast and crew deposit their dog’s doings.

“It’s basically a trash can with bags attached, but it says ‘Pooch Scoop Station.’ I have never seen one at another studio and that says to me that not only are dogs tolerated – they are more than welcome and there are enough of them to warrant their own special places.”

“Enough” is putting it mildly. Stargate: Atlantis Executive Producer John Smith says there can be as many as 20 dogs or more on the lot on any given day. Smith is the man responsible for Stargate going to the dogs: “The whole dog thing started out since I’ve been here—since the beginning of Stargate 13 years ago.” In fact Smith always has his permission to take his dogs to work written into his contracts.

“I’ve had probably eight black Labradors in my career that have come into work with me every day,” says Smith, whose luscious black Lab, Haida, has the run of the lot and even her own chair in the boardroom where she attends production meetings daily.

“Haida comes into the office and sits right up at the boardroom table,” says Smith. “She’s always done it since she was a puppy. She’s been coming into the office since she was six weeks old.” That gives Haida seniority at Bridge Studios. “She’s been here a lot longer than a lot of the people on the show,” agrees Smith.

Having Haida and the other dogs around “makes for a relaxing atmosphere in the office,” says Smith. And that canine induced calmness translates into everyone’s performance on the lot from the office workers to the actors.

“100%,” agrees Smith.  “I would absolutely say that.” “David Hewlett (who plays Dr. Rodney McKay on Stargate: Atlantis) brings his dog in everyday. If an actor has his dog in his trailer, he goes back and sits there learning his lines while scratching the dog’s ear. It does bring calmness to you. In this particular line of work, you’re away from home at least 12 or 13 hours a day sometimes, maybe more. This is a way to bring part of your life with you and takes the stress off of being away from all the other things you love at home.”

Picardo immediately noticed the difference in stress levels between the Voyager and Stargate sets: “Certainly some of the requirements that were much more strictly enforced on Voyager are a little looser here. I like the fact that in the Pegasus Galaxy you can in fact, eat on the sets.”

To be fair, the bridge of the starship Voyager was an immaculate carpeted set compared to the more resilient sets of Stargate: Atlantis. “If you’re going to have an actor drop half a tuna melt or a dog pee on the floor,” points out Picardo, “it might as well be on hard wood or concrete rather than carpet.”

Which brings up the question Stargate fans are surely dying to know the answer to by now: In all this time, has a dog ever gone wee-wee or worse on the Stargate — the portal that makes intergalactic travel possible in the series?

“I have not noticed a dog drop a load on the stage,” Picardo replies, “It may or may not have happened. But I am a newcomer, so I would not be the best one to ask.  But as I said, we have far less carpeting in the Pegasus Galaxy, so it would be far less of a tragedy.”  

Actually, according to Smith, in all the years that characters have traveled to other worlds through the Stargate, it has to this day remained unstained. But should that ever happen, Smith assures fans that the Stargate sets are “very durable.”