Actor Jonathan Goldsmith speaks at the Second Congregational Church in Bennington on Wednesday evening during the 55th Annual Second Chance Animal Center
Actor Jonathan Goldsmith speaks at the Second Congregational Church in Bennington on Wednesday evening during the 55th Annual Second Chance Animal Center meeting. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com)

BENNINGTON -- "The Most Interesting Man in the World," Jonathan Goldsmith, is quite interested in animals and, judging by audience reaction, he gave a very interesting talk at the annual meeting of Second Chance Animal Center.

At the meeting on Wednesday at Second Congregational Church in Bennington, Second Chance gave out recognition awards to staff, volunteers and supporters, and gave an update on its quest for a larger facility in Shaftsbury.

Board member Judy Murphy used the word "unique" when introducing Goldsmith. "He is certainly unique among our 54 previous speakers at our annual meetings," she said.

Now famous as the "Most Interesting Man in the World" in a long-running series of commercials for Dos Equis beer, actor Goldsmith has appeared in 25 Westerns. "As he told me tonight, he has fallen off more horses than anyone in Hollywood," Murphy said.

Goldsmith made guest appearances in such 1970s-80s television series as "The Rockford Files," "Hawaii 5-0," "Murder, She Wrote," "Dynasty" and "Magnum PI." He appeared 17 times in the once-famous "Dallas" series. He has been making the popular Dos Equis commercials since 2006.

Goldsmith and wife, Barbara, live in Manchester with two Anatolian shepherds. The many causes he supports include saving Siberian tigers and supporting a foundation which funds research to find a cure for canine cancer.

As a young actor, the first line he ever uttered before the camera was on the long-running television show "The Doctors.


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" He was an extra until someone wrote in and encouraged the show's producers to give him a line.

"My line was simple enough, ‘Doctor, she has a contusion on her ankle.' I had been to the best dramatic school in the East, maybe the in whole country. I had 40 dramatic renditions of that [line]," Goldsmith said. "A coast-to-coast live debut, 2:30 in the afternoon on Friday. I was ready. I stepped up in front of the lead doctor -- this is live television -- I went completely blank. I said, ‘Doctor, her left ankle is corroded.'"

The audience at the meeting roared with laughter.

"So here I am," he said.

Goldsmith thanked everyone at the annual meeting, "because this is one of the reasons that we moved to Vermont, this spirit, a love, the sense of community. And Barbara and I salute what you do."

He told a story illustrating the enduring love of a human and a dog. Years ago, he and his then-wife owned two Anatolian shepherds, a Rhodesian ridgeback and a little mutt. One night one of the Anatolians got out and when he came back attacked the mutt. His wife intervened and was injured.

"I knew afterwards that I would have to give this dog away," he said of the Anatolian, named Joe.

Goldsmith had a strong bond with this dog. Living near Copake, N.Y., he had come home one day and saw the Anatolian had fallen through the ice. He had run on it all winter but then the spring thaw came. "It was lucky I was home. I ran in. I got him, and from that moment on we were absolutely inseparable, loved him. I loved him. I guess you know, whatever your dog is, that dog is your favorite more than any other dog.

"So time passed; this incident happened, and I knew I had to give the dog away."

There was a call out for animals for a Disney movie called "Cats & Dogs."

"So they wanted Joe. And they offered to pay me for the dog. I never sold a dog in my life, but this is Disney Studios, and I knew what they were going to do with this animal, They were going to train him and put him through his paces. And I said ‘why not,' it just seemed to make sense," Goldsmith said.

When he took the dog to the training company, "It was the worst drive of my life. This dog would stand by the shower while I was inside washing. We were so incredibly close. I'm sure many of you have stories about how close you are with your animals."

Joe was about 2-1/2 or 3 at this time. "It was horrible to have to give this dog up."

About 10 years later, Goldsmith was in the middle of filming one of this "most interesting man" commercials. He was going to stick a pin into a map where he intended to do something marvelous and interesting. "And when he extended his hand a trained barn owl would come down and land on his hand" to help him make the decision.

Goldsmith asked the trainer how to handle the owl. They got talking about other entertainment work the trainer had done. This man had worked on the movie "Dogs & Cats" and well-remembered the Anatolian that Goldsmith once owned.

"This is 10 years later," Goldsmith said. "I said, ‘where is he?'"

The trainer replied, "Well, you know, you signed that paper that you weren't supposed to look up and find out where he is and be connected."

"I said, ‘that's okay. But would you please contact the person that has him and just tell them I don't want to cause you any grief, I just would like to see him again.'"

The dog was living in Maryland. "So this nice man called me, and he said ‘you're most welcome to come and see this mutt, but you'd better hurry,'" Goldsmith said, choking up. "And I wondered, would be remember me? We were so incredibly close."

Old Joe's new owner said he loved ducks and kids. Joe always had a very peculiar signature handshake. "So we went down there, and I see this elderly man, and he's walking with this old mangy dog, and it was Joe. And I wondered, would he remember?

"Would he remember after all this time, and he didn't appear to." Joe didn't seem to recognize Goldsmith and his eyes were grayed over with cataracts.

"As he got a little bit closer, he stopped and cocked his head and all of a sudden there came the [recognition]. It happened to be by accident Valentine's Day," Goldsmith said, with several in the audience now in tears. "So that's why I love being in a room with all of you people, because you love, you love those who can't help themselves. When you do what you do to keep a dog alive, it's not just for one person but its for families, it's for memories.... It's really wonderful what you do."

Goldsmith added, "I've often wondered, usually sitting around a campfire ... about the nature of life. What's it all about. I've never been a religious person but I am a spiritual one, I think. And I believe that if there is a purpose to life, it's to love and the love of animals is so special."

New director, new home

Business at the annual meeting included welcoming the new executive director, Linda Huebner, most recently from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Board member Lisa Byer, filling in for Board President Kimberly Gould, who could not attend the meeting, emphasized some information Gould included in the center's annual report.

In 2013 there were 559 cats surrendered to Second Chance, 174 dogs surrendered, and 24 "critters" surrendered. In response there were 385 cats adopted, 157 dogs adopted and 17 "critters" adopted. The center also conducted 65 humane investigations.

The center has been seeking a suitable property on which to build, in the president's words, "a new, beautiful, state-of-the-art animal center that will allow us to serve even more needs with additional services for families and pets in our community."

They have contracted to buy a piece of property in Shaftsbury very close to the current location, pending zoning approval: "We are excited and hopeful about this prospect, but we need your support to help us secure our new home," Gould writes.

The project will be before the Shaftsbury Development Review Board on Wednesday, May 21, at 7 p.m. at Cole Hall.

Second Chance also gave out several awards: Good Citizen's Award to Anna and Christina Butcher; Volunteer Award to Jenny Uselton; President's Award to Tim Peters; and Staff Award to Shona Ross.

Contact Mark Rondeau at mrondeau@benningtonbanner.com. Twitter: @banner_religion