If you’re filming a television commercial and the script calls for a cute pet as the star, who do you call?
What about a photo shoot in the desert that requires a trained camel? Or a catwalk show in which the celebrity designer suddenly requires a live snake to curl around a prized model’s neck?
Enter stage left: The Animal Agency.
This new Dubai business hopes to solve all these problems, and more, by developing a roster of animals for those who need them, including the producers of the country’s growing film and television industry, and organisers of video and photo shoots, ad campaigns and live events.
It is essentially run the same way as a modelling agency – the business has a portfolio of talented stars on its books and will supply them for a fee.
The Animal Agency is the brainchild of British sisters and long-time residents Karalynn and Sheryl Thompson, a commercial and events manager and a lawyer, respectively.
“It’s always been a lifelong dream to work with animals,” says older sister Karalynn, “but how to make it happen was the question.
“I was watching TV at home in the UK and there was a documentary all about this [industry] – I thought ‘that would be the ideal job’.
“When I came back to Dubai, I found no one doing it here. I thought: ‘Why not give it a go? We’re missing a trick’.”
After months of research and preparation, the business officially launched last month, with almost 20 animals on its books.
They are listed online in different categories, including dogs and puppies, cats and kittens, birds and exotic animals. There is also an “Arabian heritage” section, which includes regional species such as falcons, camels and Salukis.
Every animal is the star of its own profile page. Each listing includes a detailed biography and a long list of vital statistics, including age, breed, weight and eye colour.
There is also a section devoted to special skills: Minnie the dog opens doors, turns on taps and gives kisses, for example, while two-year-old Ted, a kitten, likes chasing bottle tops.
“It’s very similar to a modelling agency,” says Sheryl, 32. “We’re representing talent – it just happens to be animal talent.”
So far, many of the animals on the business’s books have come to its attention through word of mouth and chat on social media, from animal lovers who have put their family pets forward after hearing about the project.
“It’s a new idea, but people have totally jumped on the bandwagon already,” says Sheryl. “We’ve had a lot of cats and dogs submitted through our website.”
The sisters have also established links with animal-welfare organisations, trainers and other groups and individuals to expand their options.
However, tracking down some of the less family-friendly animals has proved tricky and the pair are keen to get a wider range of talent on their roster.
Top of the wish list are reptiles, spiders and terrapins.
“Spiders are not my favourite animal,” says Sheryl, “It’s going to be difficult, but I’ll manage it.”
Aside from arachnophobia, the biggest challenge the sisters face is not just spreading the word about The Animal Agency, but also convincing companies and creatives they have something valuable to offer.
“There are so many animal lovers out there – the best example is the Andrex puppy,” says Karalynn, 34, referring to a cute Labrador puppy that starred in a long-running series of British television adverts for toilet roll. “Everyone from the UK grew up with that and they love him. There’s been research into why – people see animals and have a feeling of warmth.
“The UAE is in the press so much for being the biggest, the best, the first – and this an area in which it should be leading the region, too.”
• Find out more at www.animalagencyuae.com