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Q&A: How a UO GTF became Max the dog in ‘Disney on Ice: The Little Mermaid’

Everybody has a backstory, but some are a bit wackier than others. Few can say that before they were at the University of Oregon earning a PhD, they spent their days jumping around on all fours as Max the Dog for the Disney on Ice production of The Little Mermaid. For Barton Howe, a graduate teaching fellow in the School of Journalism and Communication, this is his wacky reality..

Jordyn Brown: How does one get a job as a dog for Disney on Ice?

Barton Howe: What I was [originally] hired as was a tour coordinator … Normally I was on the road with the skaters and we were on the road for nine months of the year, but when we weren’t on the road they’d bring me back to Florida to work on different projects. And I happened to be there when they were building Little Mermaid on Ice, coming up with the costumes and sets. And here was this job as Max the dog that didn’t require skating. And I remember thinking: “I want that job!” But I didn’t have the guts to ask for it. I wasn’t physically in shape for it, and there were just a whole lot of reasons why it wasn’t going to happen.

JB: So how did it happen?

BH: I went back on the road with my show … and I was walking home from the ice arena where we were performing back to our hotel, and I got hit by a bus.

It broke pretty much every major bone on the left side of my body. I was in a wheelchair for weeks, months maybe, crutches for more, many surgeries … The flip side of it was I was doing physical therapy three or four hours a day so I ended up getting in shape by accident.

I just kinda decided, “I’m gonna ask for the job.” It’s not like if they said no, it would kill me. And they said yes. So I ended up learning the part and became the fourth understudy. Then in one day, I went from fourth understudy to the only person that could do the job. In one day everyone went out with injuries, and long-term injuries (broken hand, broken back). So I ended up as the dog.

Barton Howe, a UO GTF in the School of Journalism and Communication, played Max the dog in 'Disney On Ice: The Little Mermaid.'

Barton Howe, a UO GTF in the School of Journalism and Communication, played Max the dog in ‘Disney On Ice: The Little Mermaid.’

JB: Was this a particularly dangerous career?

BH: As the dog, I ruptured a bicep because I was always running on my arms … Another time I got nailed right in the side of the head by a skater … She gave me a concussion and I was out for two weeks.

JB: How did you move on the ice if you didn’t skate?

BH: On my back legs I wore a pair of spiked golf shoes, on my front … [I would wear] a pole with a brace that wraps around the bicep and [I would] just slip the arm down in it and grip it like a bicycle handle. Except mine were only one foot long, so they essentially made my arms as long as my legs. And they were basically on big springs, like I was running on shock absorbers … So when I ran I was essentially running on four sets of big teeth, so I wouldn’t slip and slide on the ice.

JB: What was the best part of being Max?

BH: When you come running out onto the ice for the first time, and you have 15-thousand people who are yelling and screaming just for a few seconds because they think you’re awesome. I played the Portland Rose Garden and it was sold out, and just to hear 10-thousand people screaming for you is awesome.

JB: Was there a lot of travel?

BH: The job dropped me into 48 different states, 20 different countries. In the United States, every week you’re in a different city, and when we were overseas every month you’re in a different country. I won’t say all my bills were paid. I wasn’t making a ton of money, but I didn’t have a ton of expenses either.

JB: What made you decide to become a PhD student of journalism?

BH: I was always one of those people [before my accident] that was afraid of offending people, afraid of rejection. And there were always a lot of things that I wanted to do, and I was afraid of people telling me no. After recovering from my accident, and being Max the Dog, two things I never thought would be possible, I just kind of made up my mind that everything I’ve ever wanted to do, I’m going to go do it, or at the very least I’m going to ask.

But that whole experience, what it taught me is that life’s too short, and if you want something, then go after it.

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Jordyn Brown

Jordyn Brown