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Examiner
  • Local man finds niche in movies with animals

  • Growing up in Independence, Jim Colovin always wanted to be a stuntman. He never did become a stuntman, but he still ended up in the movie business performing potentially dangerous tasks as an animal trainer.

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  • Growing up in Independence, Jim Colovin always wanted to be a stuntman. He never did become a stuntman, but he still ended up in the movie business performing potentially dangerous tasks as an animal trainer.
    Colovin has been working with animals in the film industry for more than 30 years. He says he trained his first animal for film in 1976 for the TV series “Grizzly Adams.” Since then, as a full-time trainer, Colovin has trained animals for movies such as “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Little Nicky.”
    As a kid, Colovin loved to do stunts like jumping off porches or rolling down hills, but he also loved his dog Elmer. Colovin said he would talk to Elmer, and he built an emotional connection with him.  
    Colovin joined the Air Force after graduating from Van Horn High School. After four years in the Air Force, he came back to Independence. A few months later, he decided on a whim to move to California, where he worked as a bouncer at a night club.
    During the daytime, he taught his dog to do tricks, and when he saw a television show featuring trained animals he thought, “I can do that.”
    That is when he first started to seriously pursue becoming a professional animal trainer.
    He said he has never had any formal training, but learned to train animals through experience.
    “I have learned more from animals than I’ve taught them,” he said.
    When training animals, Colovin uses a method called random reinforcement to take what an animal does naturally, and train it to do that on cue. He says that a prospective trainer could positively reinforce anything an animal does to get an animal to repeat a desired action, whether preparing it to perform in a movie or just to housebreak it. 
    “I don’t make them do anything,” Colovin said. “I’m just working with their natural abilities.”
    After initial training, he says, another important part of training animals is to incorporate “environmental conditioning” by changing the training site. This prepares the animals for being under the lights and in front of the camera on a film set.
    Besides working on the “Grizzly Adams” television series and in film, he has also trained animals for commericals and single episodes of television shows like “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Golden Girls.” Besides his television and film credits, he has also worked as a consultant or assistant trainer on several movies.
    Colovin said he was the first animal trainer to teach an animal to look at an actor on cue, as well as the first animal trainer in the film industry to be able to command an animal while standing behind it.
    Colovin has trained many different species of animal, but specializes in dogs. He has also trained lions, tigers and bears. He says that he is able to handle different types of animals because of his ability to communicate.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Once you understand the art of communication, it is just understanding the species,” Colovin said. “It is an art form.”
    Colovin does not have any upcoming film projects, though he said he has not quite retired from training, but “has one foot out” of the film business. Now, Colovin is writing a book that he plans on publishing in the next year. He refused to reveal the topic of the book, but said that it is about more than just animal training.
    Three years ago, Colovin became the owner of Harvey, the bulldog he trained to perform alongside Adam Sandler in “Little Nicky.” The dog lived out its last years in retirement as Colovin’s pet until it died at the age of 15 earlier this year. Colovin said one of his friends made him a miniature star resembling those on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, in rememberance of Harvey, with the dog’s name inscribed on the star.  
    His sister, Carolyn Roedel, still lives in Independence, but follows her brother’s animal training career closely.
    “I’m proud of what he’s done,” Roedel said. “He’s a good kid.”
     

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