Smallbiz/lk1ST/mark2nd

By NOLA L. SARKISIAN

Staff Reporter

Amid the chaos on the set of the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," one cast member sits unfazed on the flowered couch Shamsky the English bulldog.

Watching his trainer's hand signals off the set, Shamsky dutifully obeys the command to "stay." That's harder than it looks, according to Rob Bloch, owner of Critters of the Cinema, one of Hollywood's top resources for training and supplying animals.

Bloch's 18-year-old company has supplied animal actors to some 2,000 movies, television shows and commercials, including "Romancing the Stone," "Police Academy II," "Hill Street Blues" and "Cagney & Lacey."

As viewers grow accustomed to seeing animals tout the benefits of beer and fast food as well as provide cute companionship to the hottest sitcom stars it's easy to forget that just like actors, animals need time to learn the biz. Most critters require at least two years of training before they're able to shine, Bloch said.

"For a dog to become a studio dog takes time," he said. "We have to get the dog to look afraid when he's not, tired when he's not, and to 'stay' under all circumstances. The dog has to emote and it's not as easy as it looks. Those not familiar with an animal often don't give adequate prep time just like an actor needs."

Bloch stumbled into this line of work after discovering that he had a way with animals. Aimless after completing a stint in the Navy, he enrolled at Moorpark College's exotic animal and training management program. After getting some experience working with established trainers, he set out on his own in 1980.

Glamorous, it wasn't.

"I opened up shop in a one-bedroom apartment in Van Nuys where no animals were allowed," he said. As his litter grew, Bloch upgraded to a guest cottage in Hawthorne, then to Sylmar and Sun Valley.

"What I was doing was illegal and I kept getting kicked out," he said. "L.A. County said you could have only three dogs, three cats and three parrots, and I had more than that. Finally, enough was enough."

In 1988, Bloch moved to a 30-acre ranch in Lake Hughes, about an hour north of Los Angeles where he now resides with 52 dogs, 65 house cats, 100 pigeons, 20 doves and 50 rats.

His company employs 10 independently contracted trainers and four full-time workers. Revenues last year were around $500,000, up from $11,000 when Bloch launched his company.

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