Times are ruff, so they call on dog to save ’em

Saturday, November 22nd 2008, 10:45 PM

Keivom/News

Deb Chusid, her son Jonah hope Louie can bring in the big bucks!

Like his laidoff owner, Louie the 5-pound wonder dog is waiting for work.

Deborah Chusid, 46, lost her advertising job on Sept. 26, another New York casualty of the economic downturn.

If that wasn’t bad enough, when she phoned her ex to ask him to put their 14-year-old son, Jonah, on his health plan, there was another blow. He had lost his job the same day.

Now what?

Chusid, frantic for ways to support herself and her son, took one look at the littlest man in the house – Louie – and heard opportunity barking.

Why not put the dog to work? Surely everyone would think Louie – a friendly black-and-white Mi-Ki named after Louis Armstrong – is as adorable as she and Jonah do.

A week later, Chusid e-mailed studio photos to Animals for Advertising, a midtown talent agency, and got the coveted callback: Bring Louie in.

“It’s a crappy economy and you have to do whatever it takes, including keeping a sense of humor,” Chusid said.

As the city’s economy continues to slide into the doghouse, New Yorkers are increasingly getting more creative about how to make ends meet. Realtors are driving cabs. Wall Street traders are selling cupcakes and teaching yoga.

Chusid is taking whatever freelance work she can get: She has looked into doing focus groups, which pay up to $200 for two hours, and now she can add canine stage mother to her résumé.

“He’s a dream,” Chusid gushed at her upper West Side apartment, patting Louie’s apple-domed head. “I can see him in a dog food commercial, pet catalogues, even a movie. If they ever make another “Star Wars,” they could cast him as Yoda.”

Louie apparently passed his screen test with canine composure – he was able to “sit-stay” for five long minutes, not distracted by the traffic outside the Time Warner Center.

Chusid said the mellow Louie should have a leg up on the competition because he is trained and certified as a therapy dog. Once a month, she and Jonah, a ninth-grader at Beacon High, take the rare-breed pooch to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia to visit patients – their way of giving something back after heart surgeons there saved Jonah’s grandparents.

For now, Chusid and Louie wait at home for the phone to ring with work. No calls yet.

“He’s a cute little dog,” said Linda Hanrahan, the president of Advertising for Animals and owner of the now departed Toonces the Cat of “Saturday Night Live” fame.

Hanrahan said she was moved by the family’s financial setback and would try to throw them a bone.

“Louie would be good sitting next to a fancy pocketbook, coming in or out of a limo with a beautiful woman … selling quality products,” said Hanrahan, an industry veteran.

As for the silver screen, she was more circumspect.

“He’d need more training. He would have to speak and hit marks and do all that,” said Hanrahan. “Clients want strange things from little dogs. They may want the dog to be held and bark, which is a hard thing to do. Dogs that work most in movies are mutts and terriers. The fancy dogs are in limos.”

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