Stephen Carlile is an actor most famous for portraying Scar in various stage productions of “The Lion King,” but acting isn’t his only passion. Carlile has always loved dogs even though, for most of his life, he wasn’t allowed to have one.
“My parents all said, ‘You can’t have a dog, you’re an actor!’” he told The Epoch Times. “‘You’re never around to look after a dog. It’s not possible’”
Yet he believed differently.
“I could take the dog into work; in the day we’re at home,” he said. “It could be an exceptional life for a dog.”
So, when the British actor moved to New York to make his Broadway debut in 2017, he and his wife, Emily, knew that they wanted to adopt. It took a long time and a lot of research to find the right dog for them.
Through that research, Emily found a shelter called The Looking Glass in upstate New York. After weeks of checking their listings, she came across a Shih Tzu/Poodle mix named Sugar.
“She showed me the picture from across the room and we were both like, ‘THAT is the dog!’” said Carlile.
Not only was Sugar adorable but she had an incredible story as well.
Sugar had a rough life up until that point. She had been abandoned in a Brooklyn apartment by her prior owners.
Her hair had grown so long and become so matted that her eyes were matted shut. She was dehydrated, emaciated, and had eye infections. No one knows exactly how long Sugar had been abandoned for but, from her condition, it seemed she had been neglected for quite a while.
When Sugar was first discovered, she was taken to a kill shelter by the police, but then The Looking Glass came in and picked her up. They took her to the vet where 4 pounds of matted hair were removed, which was a lot considering that she only weighed 15 pounds.
When Carlile went to get her, she had only recently been shaved down and had been spayed just earlier that day. She was nervous and shivering. “She looked like a worm,” Carlile commented.
Yet, despite that, he and Emily fell in love with her right away.
“Immediately we adored her,” Carlile said. “We just thought ‘Oh, we’ve got this beautiful thing to look after! We’re going to make her so happy!’”
Bringing Her Home
Since Carlile and his wife had never owned a dog before, they weren’t quite sure where to put Sugar when it came to bedtime. The night they brought her home, they set a pillow up in their bedroom for her to sleep on.
At 2 a.m. the next morning, they woke to sounds of Sugar bumping into objects in the room. She still had eye problems from the infections and was wearing a giant cone, so she had a tough time navigating in the dark.
Eventually, she found the edge of Carlile’s mattress and reached her paws up to him, signifying that she wanted up on the bed.
“I thought ‘Why not? This dog’s been through such hardship [and] heartache, so let’s just have her on the bed!’” Carlile said.
From that night on, she slept with them on the bed.
As Carlile took care of Sugar, they both grew happier and Sugar grew healthier. In one month, Sugar gained five pounds, her hair grew back, and Carlile got to see a side of New York he never knew existed.
“New York I find can be quite a cold and lonely place but suddenly you get a dog and it becomes a small town feel,” he said. “People who would normally walk past you … [you see] their eyes brighten and they’re talking to your dog like ‘Oh! How cute!’”
The Backstage Barker
If Emily is away and Carlile is performing, he takes Sugar into work. Given that Emily spends half the year back in London for her job as a director, Sugar has become a Broadway regular.
“The [Lion King] cast and crew really adore Sugar,” Carlile said. “Everyone in the building knows who she is.”
She comes into the dressing room with him nearly every day and stays there whenever he has to go onstage. In the meantime makeup artists, costume designers, and puppeteers come in and pet and play with the sweet pooch.
“I never know this is going on,” Carlile said. “I get back in the dressing room and she’s just on the couch sleeping and everyone tells me ‘Oh, I had a great 10 minute session with Sugar.’ Yet, when I come in, she’s just completely dozed off.”
Even when Carlile is gone, Sugar gets a lot of attention at the theater. For instance, when he was away on a trip and had gotten friends to take care of her, they went to the theater to pick something up for the dog.
Sugar’s temporary caretakers didn’t really know anyone in the building but that didn’t stop a ton of cast and crew members from approaching them saying, “Hey, Sugar. How are you?”
Through her owner’s job, Sugar has made all sorts of friends that she wouldn’t have made otherwise. Two of the most notable are Carlile’s dresser who takes her on walks and the stage door keeper who loves to give her treats.
“Every single show when we walk in, [the stage door keeper] says ‘Sugar, do you want a treat?’ and the dog just goes straight up to the stage door keeper and just stares at him until she gets a treat,” Carlile said.
While this style of begging is not atypical of dogs, Sugar shows restraint in a way that most other dogs wouldn’t. Whenever she receives a treat, she knows not to chew it until she has gone up the elevator and into the dressing room.
She practices a similar sort of restraint every time she receives a bone.
“It was at Christmas I think when we gave her her first bone … and it was quite sad for a second because she took the bone and she put it on the floor and just stared at it and looked over it for about 10 minutes,” Carlile said.
At first, Carlile and his wife thought that Sugar might have been disappointed with her gift but, after those 10 minutes, she absolutely devoured the bone. She has done this every time she has received a bone since. Carlile jokingly calls the pause before eating as her “prayer.”
It certainly sounds like Sugar’s prayers were answered when Stephen and Emily adopted her about six months ago, and the feeling is mutual.
“She’s the most loved dog,” Carlile said. “She gets a lot of love [at home] … and when she goes into work, she gets even more.”
Not only has Sugar received loving parents but a wonderful extended family in the form of Carlile’s fellow cast and crew. While pride may have been Scar’s downfall in “The Lion King,” the actor who plays him has plenty of reason to be proud here!