The moment Laura Nativo stepped onto the set of the famous television show Romper Room at the age of 5, she knew that she wanted to be in the entertainment industry; but she couldn’t have possibly imagined that she would become one of the leading voices in animal-related entertainment, along with her three precious Pomeranians. Her path to her position was not an easy or traditional one, but it has helped define who she is and where she wants to go.
Growing up in Parsippany, New Jersey, Laura lived a self-defined “sheltered” life, attending Catholic school, and excelling at academics, sports, and cheerleading, while always finding time to follow her passion for acting. Multi-tasking and juggling activities was something that Laura had to learn at an early age after losing her mother to cancer. With her father busy supporting the family through work, Laura had no choice but to take on the roles of “mother, homemaker, older sister and daughter” for the family—raising herself, as well as her younger sister from the age of six.
Throughout her childhood she continued acting, performing in countless plays, musicals and independent films, while also attending intense performing arts camps and touring with the professional children’s theater group, Kids On Tour. The years of strict discipline and long days taught Laura that with determination and careful time management, anything was possible; and at the age of 17 she was discovered by film legend Woody Allen, earning a part in the 1998 film Celebrity. Inspired by this achievement, Laura packed her bags for California, intending to stay only the summer while studying film and TV at UCLA and The Media Workshops. She fell in love with Los Angeles, and after her father agreed when she jokingly asked him if she could stay, she sacrificed her senior year of pep rallies and prom with her family and friends to pursue her Hollywood dreams. The consummate overachiever, she graduated from Beverly Hills High School in just three months through a special independent-study program for teens in entertainment, whose alumni include Hollywood A-Listers Angelina Jolie and Nicolas Cage, among many others. Determined to earn her spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Laura focused all her energy on her work and became one of Hollywood’s hottest up-and-coming young stars. When not on screen, she worked behind the scenes as a producer for movies and music videos, enabling her to learn another side of the industry and to gain beneficial production experience. She started her first production company, record label, and magazine, Inspire Entertainment, at 21 while also serving as a spokeswoman for Rock To Cure, a charity that she helped co-found that uses the universal language of music to raise money and awareness for various organizations such as City of Hope, National Kidney Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis, and Drug-Free America.
It was in the Summer of 2008 that we first became fans of Nativo who was starring in the CBS hit reality show, Greatest American Dog, alongside her constant companion Preston Casanova. We tuned in each week to see how the pretty pair would fare on the reality show that pitted people and pooch teams against each other in challenging competitions and tough tasks. Laura and Preston finished in the top seven and their lives have officially gone to the dogs. Since her appearance on the show she and Preston have served as ambassadors for the Helen Woodward Animal Center and Iams Home for the Holidays Campaign, helping more than 1.3 million animals find new homes. Laura and Preston hosted a live, interactive show for dog lovers, Preston’s Planet L!VE, on TheStream.tv, hosted a web series for Natura Pet Products, and traveled the country to work with other amazing dogs and their humans filming The Adventures of Laura & Preston. Laura recently hosted a dog competition one-hour special for the Game Show Network, Dog Park Superstars, an action-packed show in which dogs and their human caretakers compete in intriguing and funny games of skill, teamwork, and obedience. Most recently, Laura and Preston have just returned to the small screen, hosting a new dog show for the new network for animal lovers, Petsami.com.
In their time off-screen, Laura and Preston, along with the other Pomeranians in their pack, Penelope and Winston, are passionate about promoting the importance of the human-animal connection and volunteering with incredible charities around the country. Laura is the founder of The Pawtastics, a non-profit volunteer organization comprised of celebrity dogs, studio dogs, exceptionally-trained canines and their humans who aspire to take therapy dog work to another level. As an APDT certified dog trainer, Nativo actively volunteers at local shelters and loves helping homeless animals be on their best behavior so they have a better chance of finding a perfect forever home! Her magical ability to understand, connect with, and positively inspire dogs to reach their full potential has led to her being nicknamed “The Fairy Dogmother” and she and Preston were recognized for their philanthropic endeavors at the 2010 Westminster Dog Show, receiving the “Pet Star” Golden Paw Award.
The Poms and their princess are just settling in to their new hosting gig on Petsami.com and we can’t wait to tune in—or logon—to see what the team, deemed “America’s Favorite Ma & Paw” by Entertainment Weekly, has to say! Their show, Puppy Ruv with Preston Casanova & Penelope, is a lifestyle show from a dog’s eye view, that presents the inside scoop on pet hotels, dog grooming, the latest toys, pet furniture, clothing, and more! Each week seasoned star Preston helps rough-around-the-edges, up-and-comer Penelope learn how to live with style and flair. Preston will also be blogging from Petsami.com on his Ask Preston page. After years of talking we were so excited to have a chance to actually sit down with Laura, Preston, Penelope, and little Winston and hear about all of the amazing things happening in their lives. We ventured to Huntington Beach, CA and met up with the pack at the Nevaeh Wellness Spa, a tranquil treasure tucked in the hip beach community. After hugs and paw shakes we got to talking to Laura about her LIFE, her DOGS, and her love of all things canine.
LIFE+DOG: What motivates you and inspires you each day?
Laura Nativo: Definitely my mom! She is always in my thoughts and heart. She made sure to have her best friend tell my sister and me that all she wanted was for us to be happy, whatever we did in life. Because of my mom, I truly make the most out of every day. I work hard, I play harder. I am not afraid to take risks. And I am blessed to be surrounded by the most brilliant, inspiring, eclectic friends, who all inspire me in countless ways. Of course, Preston is my number one inspiration in life. Because of my dog, my career has become my vocation, and that motivates me to continuously learn, evolve, and challenge myself!
L+D: As an experienced and sought-after dog trainer, what do you think is the most important thing every pup parent should know regarding training their companion?
LN: YOU are all your dog needs. Honestly, dog training isn’t rocket science, it is simply common sense. I was self-taught for the first half of my dog training career. I think I read a few pages of The Idiot’s Guide To Dog Training when Preston was a puppy. But 90% of what I taught him was easy because of the deep level of communication we established, based on love and mutual respect. After being on Greatest American Dog, I began studying with some of the country’s top trainers and eventually became certified, but everything I’ve learned about the science of positive-reinforcement, reward-based dog training supports simple common sense. It’s a matter of time, love, respect, patience, discipline, consistency. It’s also about figuring out what motivates your dog. If you make training fun, positive, and a part of your everyday life, you really can train your dog—on your own!—in just a few minutes a day. All you have to do is commit to learning how to communicate in a language you both can understand.
LN: The most frustrating challenge for me and other modern, positive-reinforcement dog trainers is the forceful, dominance-based techniques you often see on television with certain “celebrity” dog trainers. Dog training has become so commercialized, and people can’t believe everything they see on TV. And it’s awkward for me to remind people of that, when I too am often seen on television! I do hope the sudden popularity of dog training inspires people to research the science of positive vs. traditional dog training, and hopefully empower themselves to train using positive methodology. Dogs no longer live in packs out in the wild. They are a part of our family, and spend their lives not only in our homes but our parks, airports, restaurants. Dog training has a far greater purpose nowadays in preparing our dogs to feel safe, welcome, and comfortable far beyond their own living rooms. Do you want a dog who behaves because he or she is terrified of the consequences of not listening to you? Or would you rather have a dog who behaves because he or she wants to please you? You alone choose the relationship you have with your dog, and I try to use the media and any public forums I have to advocate a happy, humane, positive-reinforcement training philosophy.
L+D: What has training dogs taught you about life?
LN: Dog training has taught me to be still. To watch more. To listen more. Depending on the dog’s training history, or lack thereof, how motivated a dog feels, and how dedicated the dog’s human may be, accomplishing a training goal from start to finish can sometimes take a long time!
L+D: What led you to your current career? Did you always want to be on TV, the web, and in the spotlight?
LN: I feel like everything in my life led me to exactly where I am right now. I was on Romper Room when I was 6 years old, and that inspired me to want to be in show business. It was never about being famous. I loved performing… and like most actors, on a deeper level, I was more comfortable playing a character than being myself. I lost my mom at a young age, so movies, television, and the theatre was an escape for me. Seeing that a happy ending was possible got me through so many rough times as a child, and I wanted to make a career out of helping to inspire people in the same ways. I moved to LA when I was 17 to pursue a career in show business, and ultimately became a working actor who produced movies as my “day job” and I auditioned for Greatest American Dog with Preston just for the fun of it. That’s when my life went to the dogs, in the best of ways. I love acting, hosting, producing, and working with animals. I am truly living the 6 year old me’s dream!
L+D: So what was it like being on the show Greatest American Dog and living in the house with the castmates—both two and four-legged?
LN: It was crazy to suddenly be roommates with a bunch of strangers, but many of us bonded in spite of the awkward circumstances, and have become lifelong friends. There is something really serene and therapeutic about cutting off the world for a few weeks. We had no access to phones, computers, the news or anyone but each other and our dogs. The best part was definitely being with Preston 24/7 and not having to worry about anything but having fun with my dog!
L+D: Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?
LN: YES! I keep in touch with Teresa, Laurie, Bill, JD, Michael, Elan, David, Ron…some of my castmates have become lifelong friends, like family. Our friendships fortunately extend beyond the dog world… Ron and I surf together, JD and I snowboard together, Michael and I live close and have a blast exploring LA culture together, Teresa and I have girl talk several times a week and visit each other as often as we can, Bill and I have heart to hearts and he loves giving me advice about boys, and Laurie is not only my dog training mentor, she is one of the most strong, brilliant, inspiring role models in my life. If it weren’t for their support and influence, I don’t think I could have turned that silly reality show into the career I have now.
LN: I was approached by John Reding and David Beebe of Fishbowl Media, along with Vin Di Bona, the legendary producer behind one of my favorite shows growing up, America’s Funniest Home Videos. Fishbowl Media partnered with YouTube to build a network of animal entertainment that could source from their massive library of hilarious, user-generated content. They were looking to add an animal expert to their team, and when they learned of my extensive producing background, I was a natural fit! Petsami is the perfect marriage of my loves—working with animals, and producing original content. Petsami is the one destination you can count on for entertaining videos that are safe, yet hilarious, for kids of all ages. Petsami.com will also host a series of blogs written by animal experts, featuring “Dear Preston” and other advice columns for pet parents.
L+D: Are you creating your own original content for Petsami?
LN: I am honored to serve as Creative Director for Petsami, which means I am ultimately involved in all creative decisions about the programming and direction of the network. We offer a slate of 1-3 minute shows that are fun, funny, and 100% family-friendly! Preston and Penelope are starring in their own pet lifestyle show, FURbulous Living! We are committed to producing content that we hope will not only move pet lovers to tears (of laughter), but inspire pet parents to help their four-legged loves live the happiest, healthiest lives possible and become further involved in the animal wellness community.
L+D: What is the driving force behind Petsami?
LN: The driving force behind Petsami is a passion for our companion animals from both our audience, and the humans who power our network. Lending their support to the network are the lovely animal advocate celebrities Lu Parker and Carrie Ann Inaba. Together we are dedicated to the integrity of Petsami as a platform to promote important animal initiatives, all the while delivering shows to satisfy our audience’s every animal instinct.
L+D: What is your favorite thing about your job?
LN: I love that I wake up every morning to three of the happiest tongues on earth and that I am generally able to bring my dogs to “work” every day. My work rarely feels like a job. Every day it’s something different, whether I’m on set hosting a dog TV show, at the local shelter rescuing a dog, coaching or training dogs on set for an acting job, backstage at Westminster or the AKC National Championships, or in a strategic meeting for Petsami at Fishbowl Media’s dog-friendly office. We are so blessed that I’m able to provide an amazing quality of life for myself and my three dogs, doing things that I love. I don’t think anything could be more rewarding!
L+D: Who inspires you personally?
LN: I am inspired by anyone who dares to make a difference. Oprah Winfrey is probably my most famous role model. But true heroes to me are other animal trainers, rescuers, activists… the people who work tirelessly, thanklessly on behalf of animals purely for the love of giving creatures a better life. I look up to Dr. Ian Dunbar and Laurie C. Williams for their dog training expertise, and outside the animal world I am inspired by the children of Dream Street, where I volunteer as a camp counselor for a week in the summertime.
L+D: As dogs and animals’ status in our society elevates, how do you feel it will impact the way in which people treat animals?
LN: I love that animals are becoming more valued in our society and are considered “children” to many parents, myself included. I hope that we see animal propositions reflect this shift in society, and that our pets are soon treated as living souls, in the eyes of the law, and not property. Of course, with this comes a tremendous responsibility to properly train and socialize our four-legged loves, as we incorporate them more into our everyday, public lives.
L+D: You are often seen at events, premieres, and press parties. How do you get ready for the Red Carpet?
LN: The Beatles said it best, “I get by with a little help from my friends!” I have a wonderful team of girlfriends who are there as my glam squad when I need them. Corina Garcia of CG Style helps me put outfits together for shoots and red carpets, and Chelsea Jade and Juline Hamilton usually do my hair and makeup. I’m a nerdy geeky tomboy, so getting fancy for red carpets still stresses me out.
L+D: What is your favorite activity to relax or recharge?
LN: I am most at peace when I’m outdoors, in nature, charged with adrenaline. My favorite activities though are easily surfing, stand-up paddling, snowboarding… and of course, hiking with my dogs! I also love a nice, home-cooked meal with my friends or boyfriend and our dogs!
L+D: What are your favorite cities to visit, both with or without your pups?
LN: I love to travel! London, Venice, Paris, Maui, Aspen—anywhere with sunshine and a surf break if I’m pup-less. With the dogs, I really love anywhere that we can road trip in the summer. We spend a lot of time at Bass Lake where the dogs join me jet skiing and paddle boarding. In the winter, we escape to the mountains. The dogs have a blast in the snow and even go sledding with me!
L+D: Do you have a favorite dog-related retailer or shop?
LN: My Pet Naturally in West LA is my dogs’ second home. They keep my kids well-groomed and well-fed, with an awesome selection of all natural products. We also frequent Pussy & Pooch in Downtown LA. They have some of the hippest, most innovative products and my dogs love “num nums” from their PawBar! We are friends with the owners of both spots, and I love discovering other family-owned, non-corporate pet boutiques like these whenever the dogs and I travel!
L+D: What is your favorite thing to do with your dogs every day?
LN: Sleep! We can’t get enough cuddling. My dogs are excellent pillows. And my favorite part of our everyday routine is our gorgeous sunset walk to the beach. We live about half a mile from the Pacific Ocean and we never take that daily stroll along the sand for granted!
LN: Preston reminds me to slow down. He truly appreciates life, always making time to sniff that hydrant, or pee on the roses, and because of my dogs, I think I appreciate the little things more. I value quality time doing nothing but simply being with the ones I love. That’s the beautiful thing about living with dogs, you realize just how much we have to learn from them.
L+D: What is your favorite memory of your dogs?
LN: My favorite memory of Preston, Penelope, Winston and their friends was last summer. I volunteered as a camp counselor for the Dream Street Foundation, and brought the dogs in with their performing therapy dog organization, The Pawtastics, for a very special event with the kids. Our dogs performed for over 100 beautiful children, and the smiles on their faces made one of the best memories of my life!
L+D: What is your favorite memory of any dogs in your past?
LN: I remember, some of my favorite time spent with friends and family as a kid was playing with their dogs! My Uncle Tom in California and my Titi Nilda in North Carolina had golden retrievers, so I’ve always had an affinity for goldens!
L+D: Do you have a favorite dog-related quotation?
LN: “In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” —Edward Hoagland
L+D: Do your dogs have any hidden talents or special tricks?
LN: Naturally. Preston is amazing at surfing, skateboarding, and playing the piano. But I think he is most proud of his ability to ransack the garbage for leftover “num nums” anytime I am stupid enough to forget to take the trash out! Even the most intelligent, well-mannered dogs have a dark side. All of my dogs are studio-trained, and LOVE performing tricks! They have the same dog agent as Uggie, the Oscar®-winning super star!
L+D: If you could describe your relationship with your dogs in just one word, what would that be?
L+D: What is your favorite thing about dogs?
LN: How happy they always are to see me whether I’m gone five minutes to check the mail, after a few weeks of traveling, or even in the middle of the day if I’ve been at my computer working. There is something magical about dogs’ love for their human and their enthusiasm to always express it with every inch of their being. We humans could learn a lot from our dogs. I can never have a bad day, as long as I have my dogs.
L+D: What is your “Dog History”? Have you always had dogs?
LN: I wish! Preston is actually my first dog. I had the cutest albino bunny named Snowflake and a goldfish named Starlight when I was a kid. But my father sadly never let us have a dog or cat, despite my sister and me begging year after year! We actually rescued a dog once named Sunchi from Puerto Rico and secretly kept her for weeks until my father found out. He made us give her up, and that was probably the most devastating memory of my childhood, after losing my mom. I think losing my first dog has a lot to do with why I am so dedicated to animals, and how I ended up becoming such a good dog mom! That experience also is the root of why I am so committed to helping train and support therapy and service animals; because I realize firsthand the positive impact they have on us.
L+D: How have your dogs changed your life?
LN: They have changed my life immensely. On a personal level, they have brought so much joy, fun, and balance to my world. On a professional level, my love for and relationship with Preston has opened more doors than I could have dreamed of! And whether it’s the homeless person on the corner or the President of the United States, I can’t tell you how many extraordinary people I’ve met, as a result of my dogs. Dog lovers share this commonality that allows you to strike up a meaningful conversation with just about anyone else who has loved a dog, and that connection to humanity is priceless.
L+D: Tell us about your charitable involvement.
LN: I am grateful to be surrounded by so many loving people who share my passion to make this world a better place. I am fortunate to be involved with many incredible animal welfare organizations, on both a national and local level. Some of my favorite larger organizations: Best Friends Animal Society, Helen Woodward Animal Center, and Canine Companions for Independence. Locally I am involved with Compassion for Canines, Hounds of Hope, and Bound Angels, as well as non-profits benefitting cancer, children, and the environment. Finally, I am proud to announce that we are forming a non-profit in Preston’s honor, The Preston’s Planet Foundation! You can learn more about our mission at www.prestonsplanet.com!
L+D: Lastly, can you give us any details on your new product invention?
LN: Yes! Preston endured two serious dental surgeries last year. My poor baby had a broken tooth, gum disease, and needed multiple root canals. I now realize the importance of daily brushing, and have become a huge proponent of establishing a regular oral health routine for your pet. It’s not easy to brush tiny dogs’ teeth with the products that are currently on the market. So I decided to do something about that, to hopefully save other pet owners from the heartache and financial stress of dental surgery for their companions. I’m in the process of patenting a new, innovative toothbrush design that makes daily brushing simpler, faster, and more efficient. We hope to launch on Season 4 of Shark Tank, as developing a product costs a lot more than Preston makes! We’ll keep you posted on our progress, and we promise to share our pet toothbrush invention with Isabella and our friends at LIFE+DOG first!
Nativo Team Credits:
Stylist: Corina Garcia of CGStyle
Hair: Christine Nelli
Makeup: Alexis Ellen for OCC Makeup
Special thanks to Sylvia Stanley, owner, Nevaeh Wellness Spa in Fountain Valley, CA.
This article was written by LIFE+DOG editor Ryan Rice.
To read more from Ryan, visit his blog on our site.