Lucky Puppy of the Week: Little Bear the Japanese Kai Ken

Not only was Little Bear rescued by Nancy Reagan, he went on to be come a movie star!

When Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director Bryan Michael Stoller first met Little Bear, he was a tiny puppy in search of a forever home. But shortly after adopting him, Bryan was shocked to discover that his new companion had a very famous rescuer! Here’s Bryan’s story of how Little Bear came into his life, and eventually became a star in his own right.

“One fateful autumn day in September 2003, I was enjoying a bagel and cream cheese at my favorite bagel place, when I encountered a young lady carrying an adorable puppy. I fell in love with the little fur ball and was told that he was looking for a good home. He looked like a tiny bear cub, so I took him home and named him Little Bear.

A month later, I received a phone call from the same young lady who told me that my puppy had actually been fostered by a presidential family — former First Lady Nancy Reagan, in fact! It turned out Mrs. Reagan had rescued Little Bear from the streets of Los Angeles when he was only a few weeks old, starving and sick with parvovirus, which can be deadly if not treated immediately. Thankfully, the Reagans rushed Little Bear to the vet, who put him on intravenous treatment for four days. Miraculously, on the fourth day, Little Bear woke up feeling better and ready to play!

Not long after being told that Bear was a presidential puppy, he and I were invited to the Reagan’s Bel Air home, where we spent four hours visiting with Nancy. She was a real sweetheart, and, of course, a huge dog lover. This experience is what inspired me to write, produce, and direct “First Dog,” with Little Bear in the starring role as the four-legged National Treasure. Nancy and I kept in touch over the years, and she even sent me a letter saying how amazing it was that the puppy she had rescued had become an actor.

For seven years, I thought that Bear was a Queensland Heeler because that’s what people thought when they saw him, but after “First Dog” came out worldwide, I started getting emails from Kai Ken breeders telling me that Bear was actually a rare Kai Ken from Japan. I looked up the breed and realized he has all the attributes: brindle coloring, purple tongue, dark nails, the dark skin under his fur, a broad belly, and all the personality traits.

Little Bear and his dad enjoying a visit with Nancy Reagan. (Photos courtesy Bryan Michael Stoller)
Little Bear and his dad enjoying a visit with Nancy Reagan. (Photos courtesy Bryan Michael Stoller)

Bear is a natural performer. He learns very quickly, which is a known trait of the Kai Ken. They are eager to learn, eager to please, and love to have a “job.” Being a filmmaker, I experimented with giving Bear direction and saw that he took to it very easily. Now he takes direction like a 4-year-old kid — no clicks or commands, just directions such as, Back to One, One More Take, Slower, Faster, Stop, Jump Up, Wait, etc. He loves to act, and you can tell he’s eager to work because he gives his full attention and eye contact as he waits for instructions. And of course, he wants a treat every time he does a good job!

Because Bear is a fast learner and so good with kids, I had him trained as a service dog to go into children’s hospitals, retirement homes, and also [to] work with autistic kids. When he does his service work, his tail wags like crazy, he looks like he’s smiling, and he licks the kids and wants to perform for them. We often screen his movies when we go into schools and hospitals.

On July 9, 2015, Bear received a proclamation from the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, for his philanthropic work as a service dog, and for inspiring others with his roles in wholesome family films.

“First Dog” went on to be the ninth highest rental on Redbox in 2012, just under “Despicable Me,” and also aired on FOX on Easter 2014. But Little Bear’s acting career didn’t end there. He recently starred in a new movie, “The Amazing Wizard of Paws,” which was just released on Redbox and Netflix a few months ago. Access Hollywood just shot a story about Bear’s amazing journey, and to honor the memory of Nancy Reagan. Currently, Little Bear is prepping for his next movie, “A Doggone Christmas.”

Bear loves to go in the car, but he’s not a typical dog who hangs his head out the window. He always waits for me to put on his seatbelt harness, and if for some reason I forget, he paws at me to put it on. He has also worn sunglasses in the car ever since he was a puppy, and when he wears them he acts like he thinks he’s cool. He loves to go for walks, but he’s not a park dog, nor does he play ball. If you throw a ball for him, he’ll just look at you, as if to say, “you go get it!” He likes to steal my mail, or anything he thinks is important to me, just so I will chase him to get it back.

Bear is like a very well behaved child, and he is low maintenance because he’s so smart. I’m never lonely because he’s the best company, and I take him everywhere. He brings a smile to everyone we meet and that makes me happy, too.”

In our eyes, every rescue dog is a star, but Little Bear is certainly one magical pup. Thank you, Bryan, for putting so much time, effort, and love into parenting such a special dog who has given so much joy to so many people — we salute you!

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Lisa Plummer Savas

A devoted dog mom, journalist, and animal activist, Lisa uses her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one entitled Pug, and a very understanding husband. Read more of her work at her blog and website, and follow her on Twitter.

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