The story of Yukon’s “death-row dog” is the focus of a new musical debuting at a national theatre festival in Whitehorse this summer.
Canada’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival has its home base in Ottawa, but every other year it becomes a travelling show hosted by a different Canadian community. This June it visits Whitehorse.
Among the performances will be Dogtown: the Musical co-produced by Nakai Theatre, Roy Ness, Grant Simpson and the Yukon Circus Society.
The director is Lynda Adams, an instructor at Red Deer College’s School of Creative Arts.
Dogtown is the brainchild of Ness and Simpson. It has been in various stages of production for the last five years.
The musical tells the story of Trevor the dog, a Rottweiler-German shepherd cross who became the centre of a court case that wrapped up in 2010 over whether the City of Whitehorse had the authority to euthanize him.
What was basically an argument over municipal rules and contract law became national news. Stories dubbed him the Yukon’s “death-row dog.”
Bylaw officers rescued Trevor from a home in the McIntyre subdivision in January 2009. They found him tied up in the backyard, with a chain that had been allowed to grow into his neck.
He was turned over to the Humane Society Yukon, which runs the Mae Bachur animal shelter.
Trevor bit multiple people after being adopted and was brought back to the city’s bylaw department.
Bylaw services determined Trevor should be destroyed in the interest of public safety, but the Mae Bachur fought to save Trevor’s life.
The shelter said the dog should never have been brought to bylaw. They argued adoption rules mean Trevor should have been returned to the shelter when the adoption didn’t work out.
The city’s legal bills topped $45,000.
In the end Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale spared Trevor’s life but ruled anyone interested in adopting him would have to meet strict conditions.
Plans to relocate Trevor to homes in the Ibex Valley, Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay all fell through.
In 2012 Trevor was put down, while still living at the shelter, after he was diagnosed with an undisclosed terminal illness. He was five.
Trevor’s case divided many Yukoners. A quick scan of online comments and letters to the editor show a community split into two camps -“Trevor deserves another chance ” vs. “Trevor deserves to die.”
It had all the makings of good theatre, Ness said: a love story, a divided community, and a tale that went viral beyond the local community.
“There’s all these elements, all about this dog. This one dog.”
Ness said the musical is a satire of the human-dog relationship and the lengths people will go to because of that connection.
“Why does one dog end up in a yard with his neck growing around a chain and another one have a diamond-studded collar?” he said.
Spoofs of some of the central characters in Trevor’s case make an appearance on stage, including Judge Von Reale and the staff at the “Mae B. Shur” animal shelter. So do a chorus of singing ravens, a city dog catcher named Fog and of course Trevor himself.
The starring canine is played by a human actor. Ness hopes to partner with the local shelter to include some real dogs on stage as well.
Years ago, when the saga was playing out in real life, there was no avoiding talk about Trevor.
“I was very wrapped up in it because it was fascinating, and which side was I on? I’m not going to answer that,” Ness said.
Trevor’s journey to the stage began as part of the 2010 Homegrown theatre festival when Ness wrote a single scene staged inside a courtroom.
From there the Nakai Theatre company agreed to help develop the story into a full production.
Simpson came onboard and both got commissions to develop the script and the songs. They worked with dramaturge DD Kugler and staged some readings.
This is the first time Simpson and Ness have worked together on a project.
They’ve had such a good time that they’re already talking about what to do next.
“Sometimes we’d go home after a couple of hours and that’s all we had done, joked around together,” Simpson said.
“But out of all that kept coming numbers that we liked.”
In all, 11 original songs make up the complete Dogtown production.
In 2012 news of Trevor’s death broke over the radio moments after Ness had written “the end” on his script.
“I wrote an end scene and it ends happily, Trevor doesn’t die, because he was still alive,” he said.
Trevor’s demise necessitated a rewrite. Now Ness won’t say how the musical ends.
Both men say they’re happy a complete project is ready for the stage.
“It’s not easy for something like this to come to life. It takes a lot of volunteering and a lot of effort. Nakai’s put in a tremendous amount of time, way more than they get paid for, for sure,” Simpson said.
“It feels great.”
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