Colleen Wilson and Melissa Curtis had successful careers in finance. Secure jobs with a bank in Southern California. And they gave all that up to become talent agents for dogs, cats, birds, turtles, lizards and bunnies.
If that sounds kind of crazy, well, it is. And you can see for yourself starting Friday when “Pet Stars” starts streaming on Netflix.
“I saw this niche in the marketplace and I dove right in,” Wilson said. “This is the perfect job for me — it’s business and it’s animals, and I love both. And we can actually make a difference doing this.”
“I dove right into it, and I haven’t looked back,” said Curtis, a Utah native. “I wake up every single morning so excited to do my job.”
The two best friends met when they worked at that bank. “We happened to sit next to each other and just completely hit it off,” Wilson said.
(Curtis was born and raised in Salt Lake City, and she’s still got family all over the state. She met her husband when they were students at Dixie State. They moved to California a couple of decades ago, but she’s still a “diehard” Utah Jazz fan — you could hear the frustration in her voice when she said, “We just can’t beat the Timberwolves for some reason.”)
The two bonded over their special-needs dogs — Wilson has a deaf Dalmatian (who appears in the series); Curtis had a three-legged dog. Wilson was operating her animal talent management agency, Pets on Q, as a side business, but by 2017, “she was able to build the business to where she could retire from finance and go do it full time,” Curtis said. “And I said, ‘Well heck, I want to go work for you.’ So I also retired from finance and we’ve never looked back.”
Wilson is the CEO; Curtis is the COO. And there are two sides to their business. There’s the “animal influencers” — almost 1,000 they have under contract — who have huge followings on social media and generate revenue for their owners when Wilson and Curtis hook them up with brands that want to use the animals to help sell their products.
And there are the animals that do “set work” — they go to sets to appear in commercials, TV shows and/or movies. “Those animals are trained and vetted and permitted,” Curtis said.
Now, Wilson and Curtis are going to be television stars themselves, which they find sort of hilarious.
“We’re not actresses,” Wilson said. “I definitely am not good at that stuff. And you can see that this is real. Netflix took this big chance on us and decided to record us.”
The fact that they’re not trained actresses is part of the show’s often goofy charm. They’re wildly enthusiastic about what they do, and some of the things they do are sort of crazy. In the first episode, they travel to an ugliest dog contest with several clients, including a dog with a cleft palate. “People can look at that and think it’s weird or different,” Wilson said. “We look at it as unique. And if that animal is loved, at the end of the day, we’re happy.”
They audition animals for clients. They organize a pet fashion show for charity. They help publicize an animal rescue operation. They head off to a dog surfing contest. They recruit animals and their owners.
“Actually, some of her family in Utah was, like, ‘I don’t understand why you’re leaving finance to do that,’” Wilson said. “It’s a very Los Angeles thing that we do. Very Hollywood. Every time you see a commercial and there is a rat, or a movie and there’s a bunny in the background that looks wild, it’s not wild. It’s hired to be there. And it’s our role to make sure those animals are safe.”
They deal with the occasional overeager pet parent. While most of the pet owners are “wonderful people,” some of them are a bit much. A lot of them want their animals to be stars, but not all the animals are interested.
“A lot of people do this because they love being with their animals, and their animals love to be there,” Wilson said, “But it definitely tenses up the mood of a casting if there’s an animal that you feel like is being forced to be there.”
“A big part of our job is to just make sure that the animals are taken care of and that the animals are having a good time,” Curtis said. “There are definitely some show-parent types. … There was nothing in place to stop that from happening, and that’s kind of why we started the whole business.”
“Pet Stars” is, however, a feel-good family show about pets and people. They’re hoping it will “encourage people to give back — to look at fostering and adoptions and animal rescues and things like that,” Curtis said.
And viewers can enjoy the friendship between Wilson and Curtis, which the show is built around. “I love that I get to go to work with my best friend and these animals,” Curtis said.
However, they admit they’re not quite sure how they’ll react once people start streaming “Pet Stars” and they become familiar faces across the country and around the world. (Netflix has translated the show into 29 languages already.)
“It’s definitely strange to go to Netflix and look up ‘Pet Stars’ and see my lizard, Jenny’s, picture on there,” Curtis said. “And see our faces there.”
“I mean, it still doesn’t feel real to me,” Wilson said.