Mutt-Cracker to raise awareness for animal welfare

- Even casual dance fans have seen the Christmastime classic "The Nutcracker," but what about "The Mutt-cracker"?

Staged as a humane society fundraiser and featuring a misshapen little mutt named "Pig" as the pirouetting pet of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the annual production has been performed by the Birmingham Ballet for the last five years. This year's version was staged Friday to a near sell-out at the city's main concert hall.

During the show, a huge, black Great Dane cavorted with Drosselmeyer, who presented his niece Clara with a magical Nutcracker, and a spaniel trotted out on stage with cast members. A pack of pugs did what pugs normally do _ sit and snort.

But Pig was a featured performer, wearing a pink tutu and dancing alone with the Sugar Plum Ferry. Born with a condition called short-spine syndrome, the 3-year-old dog hops somewhat like a frog to stand up and has hunched shoulders that make her gait appear somewhat gorilla-like.

Owner Kim Dillenbeck said being around so many people and dogs in the theater was unnerving for Pig, whose Facebook page has more than 100,000 followers.

"She is so easily startled because she can't move her head at all; her head is fused at her shoulders," Dillenbeck said. "So for her to come to a place that has lots of noise and stuff is very difficult."

But Pig was a trouper and likes to eat. During a rehearsal, ballerina Katherine Free held a treat above Pig to get the animal to twirl about at the end of a leash.

Free marveled at Pig and the 28 other dogs that were cast for the show. Only a few of the animals were trained performers, and many were rescues.

"They give so much to the stage and project to the audience more than you might think, and it's amazing to see them grow from even their rehearsals to being on the stage," Free said.

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