By Cheril Vernon

The Palestine Herald

Bill McFarlin of Flint has been married for 37 years and has never been able to keep a secret from his wife Sherrie.

Until now.

McFarlin and his beloved 8-year-old Brittany, Star, are one of the 12 teams on CBS’s new summer reality show “Greatest American Dog” which airs at 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

Though the show was taped in April, he and Star’s lips are sealed until the show is over.

“It’s the best secret and the only secret I’ve ever kept. I’m loving it,” McFarlin said while visiting BARC, The Humane Society in Palestine today.

A business associate of McFarlin had donated two pallets of dog food in Star’s name to the animal shelter in honor of the two being featured on the national television show.

Known for their silly pet tricks, McFarlin and Star never expected to be on a reality television show.

In “Greatest American Dog” on CBS, 12 teams of dogs and owners from across the nation from “pageant dogs” to those simply trained at home, live together and compete against each other in challenges that put the owners' ability to train their dogs to the test.

Each week, the judges eliminate one dog and their owner. The last remaining team will walk away with a $250,000 cash prize and the title of Greatest American Dog. Distinguished canine critics Wendy Diamond, Allan Reznik and Victoria Stilwell are the three judges with Jarod Miller hosting.

“This started when a lady saw us doing silly pet tricks and told me we should fill out this application for a television show,” McFarlin said. “A 62-page application.”

Eventually, McFarlin and Star were sent to Dallas for an auction.

“I thought it would be 10 to 15 minutes but it took nearly three hours,” he said.

Not really told much about why they were even there, McFarlin and Star went home. Three weeks later, a first class plane ticket to California arrived. The Texas duo went to California where they were kept sequestered in a hotel room with 50 or 60 other people. They were not allowed to talk to anyone who had a dog with them.

“After four days, they did psychological tests on me and Star,” McFarlin said. “Then the critter trainers, that’s what they call the trainers, watched us. Then they sent us home.”

Still not really knowing what they were being looked at for, McFarlin was surprised to arrive home to find out that they wanted the two on a new reality show related to pets.

“They finally told me about it, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it,” McFarlin said. “Then they told me there was a $250,000 prize, so I said, ‘put my name in the hat and let’s go!”

In April, McFarlin and Star headed back to California for the show.

“It’s great to be in the final 12 of all of the people who auditioned,” McFarlin said. “I consider myself a backyard trainer. Basically, see what you can do if you spend 10 to 15 minutes a day with your dog.”

Asked how he feels about being on the show, McFarlin admitted it was scary.

“I was scared to death,” McFarlin said. “I didn’t want to be a big goof.

“I have a motto: Don’t embarrass your mother. My mother is 80 years old and I think she could still whip me if I did something wrong,” he added. “I didn’t want to go on the show to embarrass myself, or my kids, grandkids or people I know. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t a family show and I was very strict about that.”

McFarlin’s family played a big role in pushing him forward to try out for the show.

“My son Bryan said he wanted everyone to see what a fine man I was,” McFarlin said. “I am proud that it is a family-oriented show, because there are not many shows out there anymore.

“A lot of families watch it and lots of dog-oriented people watch it.”

The third episode aired Thursday night. But if you want to know what’s going to happen in the future, don’t ask McFarlin. His lips are sealed.

“Watch the show on Thursday nights,” McFarlin said.

All about Star

“Star is a gift. She came into my life when I needed a dog,” McFarlin said when asked about his history with his special pet. “I had just lost Freckles, another Brittany, and I didn’t think I could do it anymore. It’s just too sad when a pet dies.”

But his son Bryan and wife disagreed, giving him Star as a present.

“She’s amazing. We go to schools and retirement homes. She’s so soft and gentle with the older people,” McFarlin said. “And she loves doing silly pet tricks. If you watch her, when she sees people laugh, you can see her laughing. And if you get the camera out, get ready, she’s going to show off.”

Star already has made a permanent dent in McFarlin’s heart.

“A year and a half ago, Star got my attention when my wife’s sugar went too low. She’s diabetic and went into diabetic shock,” McFarlin said. “She’s a little of everything. She knows what I need her to do and she does it.”

Star also has a special personality. One of her first tricks was learning to mash buttons down in McFarlin’s truck, rolling down the windows so she could stick her head out and feel the wind.

“But then she learned to hit the other button and locked me out — we’ve had several discussions about that,” McFarlin joked.

Always carrying a bottle of water with him in his truck, Star even learned to give McFarlin the bottled water when she was thirsty.

“There’s a lot of things that she has taught me. Basically, the lights on in there and I had to figure out the switches,” McFarlin said. “But I can’t take all the credit. I read a lot and have learned things and a lot of people have helped me with her.”

So what are some of the things that Star can do besides roll down the window in McFarlin’s truck and get her own bottled water?

Well, first, she has several CGC and AKA titles. She also has USDAA titles for being an agility dog with several Master level Game titles.

Some of her tricks include: Sit, down, stay, fetch the paper, get boots, get shoes, get the TV remote, get water bowl, get food bowl, roll over, crawl, back up, wave hello, speak, dance, hold it, pick up money, open doors, ring bell, roll window down in truck, LOCK truck doors, hide from everyone, count, hurt foot, act embarrassed, climb an ladder, and many more.

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