Grand Rapids Family — August 2009
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When Christine Mahaney signals Toula to “look bored,” the 5-year-old border collie lets out a large yawn.

It’s just one of many tricks Mahaney teaches in What a Dog, her professional dog training company. The Plainwell woman works with animals throughout the country and is the local representative for the Paws for Effect studio set training firm.

“Dogs have always been a passion of mine,” she said. “When my sisters and I were little, they would play with dolls and I would be outside playing with the dogs.

” As a set trainer, Mahaney’s job requires studying scripts and teaching dogs to understand cues. She is working with a bulldog starring in an upcoming Disney Pixar film being shot in Chicago.

And Toula, who Mahaney rescued from a shelter, appeared in the summer flick, “Public Enemies,” starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. One of her biggest challenges was teaching the collie to play dead for a long period while production crews, actors and dozens of onlookers provided numerous distractions.

Whether working with dogs at home or on a studio set, Mahaney uses compassionate training. “My goal with rescue dogs is to help them learn good behaviors and find a forever home,” she said. “You get a dog to enhance your life, not complicate your life. I train dogs and people to understand one another.”

Toula, who is a certified therapy dog, also does school programs with her owner to teach the message of good behavior and values. If it’s environmental week, for instance, Mahaney will drop a piece of trash and Toula will pick it up and put it in the garbage can.

“It really puts education in an entirely different light for kids,” she said. “When they see a dog acting appropriately, they think ‘Hey, I can do this.’”

For more information, go to www.whatadog.net.


She’s lived in Paris, London and Los Angeles, schmoozed with celebrities, owns a thriving business, has three beautiful children — and a devoted husband who cooks gourmet meals.

Artistic portrait photographer Annie Rouvillois has it all.

But the road to success wasn’t always clear. Warned she wouldn’t fi nd work in her field after college, the Grand Rapids native took the closest thing she could find — photographing houses for real estate. Finally, she had the opportunity to travel to London on a shortterm work visa, where she met a fashion photographer and his model wife who invited her to work for them.

“I made a fatal mistake of returning home to tell everyone goodbye (and then) was refused re-entry to England,” she said. “They said I would be taking a job away from someone there.”

Another door opened when her sister married and moved to Los Angeles. Rouvillois followed, taking a job with a foreign press agency.

“I was never a big soap opera watcher, but the foreign press was into it, so I had to be into it,” she said about hauling her equipment all over the city to photograph the stars. Rouvillois knew it wasn’t her calling. “I had a few colleagues that hid in the bushes, but overall, I was so bad at it. If someone asked me not to take their picture, I would say ‘OK.’”

When her sister became pregnant, Rouvillois offered to create a photographic portrait.

“This was the first time I saw another woman pregnant and nude, and I thought it was so interesting that we never see anything in our society like this,” she said. Soon after, a very pregnant Demi Moore graced the cover of Vanity Fair, and public fascination grew with this type of portraiture. With a longing to return to Europe and a new-found passion, Rouvillois left for Paris, where she met her husband, Lionel. After three years, when they found out she was pregnant, they chose to move to Grand Rapids.

“I never wanted to work a 9-to-5 job,” said Rouvillois. “I was too much a hands-on mom, so I started my photography work right away around my family.”

Eventually, she opened a shared studio outside her home, and after her pregnancy portrait work garnered local media attention, her career was launched. Scheduling her shoots around her kids, she manages to do it all — but not without help.

“I have a partner who loves my work and helps me so much,” Rouvillois gushed about her husband. A project manager for a software design fi rm, he fi nds time to do the majority of cooking and household chores.

“My friends say ‘Wow, it’s so great that you’re able to do everything,’ but it took a lot of work and help to get where I am,” said Rouvillois. “What’s most important is living your life to the fullest.”

Rouvillois’ studio is located at 14 Weston Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. Her portfolio can be viewed at www.annier.com.
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