Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Perhaps. Or maybe Yari is a spiritual symbol of the role she plays on the hit TV series Providence. On that show Concetta co-stars as Lynda Hansen, the overbearing maternal figure of the Hansen clan who died in the series pilot, yet returns each show in her daughter Syd’s dreams to brusquely impart wisdom and advice from her vantage point in the hereafter. Coincidence… or not?
And is it also a coincidence that this wonderful actress, who also happens to love animals, is on one of the only TV series that continually features animals? (Mike Farrell plays Jim Hansen, a veterinarian who seems to relate better to his canine clientele than he does to his own family.) From this writer’s perspective, it all seems to be a form of fate, karma, destiny… perhaps "providence" itself.
For Concetta Tomei was always an animal lover. Raised in Wisconsin as an only child, "animals were my friends and probably my surrogate brothers and sisters," she says. "My dad was a policeman who did a lot of rescue work because he didn’t want to bring animals to the pound. There would be a litter of kittens and they would want to put them to sleep… and my dad would bring them home to find homes for them. The same with puppies. Or sometimes there would be dogs that were lost in the neighborhood and we’d try to find the owners. If not, we would place them into homes. So I grew up loving animals because of the great love that my mom and dad both had for them."
Eventually her career aspirations took her to New York City, where she did a lot of rescue work with stray cats living in alleys. A year after finding Yari, Concetta rescued an orange tabby named Edward across the street from her apartment. "Yari and Edward were great mates for many years," she remembers. "They both passed away in 1989, but it was like they were from the same litter. They loved each other so much."
"I was feeding and trapping cats and doing all those things that I don’t do anymore because it broke my heart, and it was so time consuming that I didn’t have enough time for my life and my career. But to this day if I see an animal that needs my attention, I either give it to my vet, take it to a no-kill shelter or put it in a kennel for a period of time because I have the money to pay for it. Although I don’t do rescue work anymore, I help by giving whatever I can, whenever I can, to organizations that do that kind of work and who are the real warriors out there."
Concetta doesn’t think anyone should just dump stray animals off on any rescue organization without giving a nice donation. "Especially non-killing ones that depend on donations for litter, cat food or building expenses." Some of her favorite organizations she contributes to and recommends include Save-A-Life Cat Rescue in Torrance, which is a no-kill shelter. She also supports Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, Tender Loving Cat (TLC) in Redondo Beach, and C.A.T.S. Inc., "who do a brilliant job with the cats at the studios."
"There are a lot of rescue organizations in L.A. that are non-killing, that have foster care homes for cats and dogs," she continues. "I would never give an animal to the city shelters because they have so many there already that need homes. Unfortunately I don’t think the government is doing as much as it should to help these organizations in L.A. or in many U.S. cities… by giving them the money they need to maintain all of the animals in the shelters. As a result, the shelters have no choice other than to euthanize, which is a terrible thought. But I would definitely say, please, go to the shelters to adopt animals."
Concetta’s own menagerie consists of five cats and a dog. "I have two calicos, a tiger tabby, and a Mane Coon with a blue eye and a gold eye, almost like Yari. Joey is my 15-year old orange tabby and Toby is my Italian Volpino," she enumerates. "This is it for me though, because of my schedule. I believe that if you have animals you have a huge responsibility with the attention, the time, and the love and care that you give to them. They are here on this earth for a great purpose… to teach us about unconditional love. I make a point of picking up my cats every single, solitary day. Holding them, talking to them, and petting them. It’s hard when you have that many because the quality time isn’t as readily available to you, especially if you’re doing a tv series or if you’re in any kind of work that demands part of your day. I have to give attention to 6 of them, so I couldn’t deal with taking in any more. And I have no children so they’re my kids. I take full responsibility for them and I’m very protective and cautious for their welfare."
Although Concetta’s character usually has very little interaction with most of the characters or animals on the show, (with the exception of Syd,) she did have a special scene with a bulldog named Buster. "He was very depressed because his master died, and he eventually passed away. Because my character is in the afterlife, at the end of that episode I had to reunite this bulldog with his master."
John Masius, the executive producer and creator of Providence says that "the subject of animals and animal rights seems to come up in every show that I do." (He also created Touch By An Angel and was a producer on St. Elsewhere.) "I grew up with animals and I always think that it’s good, positive story material. For me the animals and the babies have a similar role in that they ground the show in a very familial, real way. The origins of the show originally dealt with the idea of a veterinarian who could deal with animals better than he could with people, and his daughter who could deal with her patients better than her own relationships. Because we have a veterinarian on the show we can deal with animal issues, and hopefully we’ll be able to deal with issues of mistreated or endangered animals. And I think we’re going to try to figure out how to expand Jim’s practice a little bit more next year."
As for his own animals, he volunteers he has "two cats, Benny and Murray. Their mom, I was the midwife for that birth, was named Syd. And I named Syd Hansen, the character played by Melina Kanakaredes, after that cat."
Like many successful shows, John wanted to have a place where people could get together, but have it conducive to animals. (Ala Central Perk on Friends.) So he created The Barkery, owned by the younger Hansen daughter Joanie, which is similar to Three Dog Bakery. "Originally, when the character of Joanie (Paula Cale) was conceived," John says, "she wasn’t a big animal fan. So for me it was kind of an irony… something you would never expect."
As to any complications working with so many animals on the show, John replies, "we have a great service that provides all of our animals- Studio Animal Services. Most of the time the animals aren’t doing major stunts or anything, they’re just there. Whenever you do something with animals, anything can happen. And although we tend to skew more towards dogs than cats, some of the best stuff has been done by ferrets. Sometimes the animals are better than the actors. They’re pretty well trained and they’re pretty professional."
"More than anything," John continues, "having the animals around is sort of sweet and calming. Everyone loves to see the puppies and the dogs and play with them. For me it’s one of the best parts of the show, to go down to the stage and have the animals there. It’s a really nice environment."
Concetta Tomei is one of those who also loves to visit the animals on the set. "I always go up to them," she admits. "I can’t help myself because I have to pet all the cats. I have to pet their noses or scratch them behind their ears or whatever. I think it’s an addiction I have, being in love with animals."
(Editor’s Note: I think it’s an addiction I have, being in love with Providence. Winner of The People’s Choice Award for favorite new TV Dramatic Series, Providence airs every Friday night at 8:00pm on NBC.)
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