The moment she first saw him on the counter at the vet’s, Jennifer Bristol, program manager at The Bully Project, knew Indy would be a hard one to place.
He wasn’t the dog she was picking up, but she could tell he had a tough road ahead of him.
Indy had been found on the streets outside a Bronx subway station, and at four pounds, and four months old, he’d already developed a deep distrust of people.
In addition, he was having constant seizures, and (unknown to Jennifer) he really enjoyed biting.
In the dog-rescue community, Indy was what’s known as a high-risk rescue, meaning no one was sure whether he’d live or die.
Jennifer took him into her rescue group anyway.
She just had a feeling about him.
Brian Hampton and his husband, Roy Chicas, had lost their beloved dog Maddie about five years earlier. Maddie had been a full-grown dog, but she also suffered from seizures. Because Jennifer knew their history of caring for special-needs dogs, and because she also knew they were starting to think about adding a new pup to their family again, she took a chance and posted Indy’s picture on her Facebook page, and forwarded it to Brian.
Brian knew only that he wasn’t interested in fostering a dog.
“I knew that I wouldn’t be able to to say goodbye to any animal,” Brian says. “So if I’m going to say yes, it means I’m ready for the challenge. The full challenge.”
Brian and Roy love Halloween, and when they saw Indy’s photo, the day after Roy’s birthday in 2013, Indy was sporting a black and orange bandage. They had adopted their first dog, Maddie, on Roy’s birthday, so even from that first moment, it all felt oddly synchronous.
They said yes before even meeting him, and brought Indy home.
Although they’d had a dog with epilepsy once before and knew what to do, Indy proved to be a more difficult challenge.
For the first couple weeks, Indy didn’t want to be touched, he was biting them a lot and had a hard time adjusting.
Indy also wasn’t sleeping. He liked being in the apartment, but wanted to be far away from Brian and Roy.
The medication held off his seizures for about two weeks, but then they started up again, and Indy was hospitalized for tests, including a spinal tap.
“He was in the hospital for a week and half,” Brian says, “and I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t his time.’ But in truth, I was really scared he was gonna die in the hospital. So I would go and sit in the hospital for hours on end, and I hoped he could feel my energy was there in a building, loving him from afar.”
And when they finally did get him back home, Indy had forgotten them and greeted Brian and Roy as strangers.
Moreover, he had been placed on a different medication that had to be administered every eight hours.
Which means that one dose always had to be given in the middle of the night.
“It was exhausting,” Brian says. “Every eight hours I’d have to give him a pill. We had a trainer come as part of the adoption process, and when she saw him, she said we needed to first focus on him being okay with being held.”
Since it was so hard to get Indy to sleep, Brian would stay up rocking him to sleep looking out the window of the streets of New York. They were on sixth floor of their apartment in Inwood, which overlooked The Cloisters.
But once they got into a rhythm with sleep, it all started to change. Indy started to become affectionate.
(The view of The Cloisters may not have been the deciding factor, per se, but I’m also certain it didn’t hurt.)
When Indy started to tolerate just being held and touched, it was another two or three weeks of Brian constantly picking him up, holding him, and increasingly holding him longer.
“There was one point where I thought, I’m never gonna write again,”—Brian is a playwright and actor—“I’m never gonna have time, because every moment is negotiating with this dog.”
There were ten developmental personality issues in total that Brian and Roy wanted to work on with Indy. Out of the ten, eight of them were fixed.
“So he still has two issues,” Brian says. “But who doesn’t have two issues? And I think now: That’s just gonna be him.”
Indy’s two issues: he still likes to communicate his feelings by biting, though Brian says they’re fortunate he no longer breaks the skin when he does. And whenever Roy or Brian leaves the apartment or closes a door on him, he gets intensely upset, clawing at the door and crying.
He did well on the seizure medication, though, and eventually the neurologist told them he seemed to be weaning himself off of it. He asked if they wanted to decrease the dosage. Brian was scared, since he didn’t want the cluster seizures to come back. But they proceeded with decreasing his meds, and it was fine.
To this day, Indy’s never had another seizure.
“It’s like he was trying to heal himself,” Brian says. “Right before we moved to Los Angeles, we took him for one last appointment with his neurologist, and the receptionist couldn’t believe he was the same dog.”
And they gave him a nickname: Miracle Dog.
“So I signed up for something called Central Casting,” Brian says, now discussing his and Roy’s decision to move from New York to Los Angeles in 2017. “They do all the background for movies and TV.”
Brian signed up because he overheard someone at a party describe something as “straight out of Central Casting,” and he decided to Google and see what it was.
A mentality of openness made him want to sign up for background acting after a long and successful stage career in New York. But L.A.’s film and TV scene wasn’t immediately opening up to him. Brian told himself: “If you gotta start at the beginning, you gotta. You can’t have your ego attached to this at all.”
He says now that if he had let his ego get in the way, he would never have experienced what he was supposed to learn in Los Angeles.
Or put another way: “If you can’t start at the beginning of something, you’ll never see the end of it.”
“And it was just like auditions back in the 90s in NYC,” he says, shaking his head. “Here I am sitting on a cold sidewalk again, trying to get another opportunity, in a field I’m experienced in, but in a city and an industry that’s totally new to me.”
When he first signed up for Central Casting, he mentioned he had a dog, and included Indy’s breed and his weight. The casting folks asked for a photo, but Brian never sent one, and eventually, he forgot about it.
Six months later, he got a text asking: “Is your dog available for Will and Grace?”
Brian said yes immediately.
And the casting folks responded, “Great, we’re gonna have him on first refusal.”
I didn’t know what that meant.
Brian explains: “It means that if they’re gonna use a dog in the scene, Indy gets to say no first.”
Brian got a date — September 4th— and a call time, and they were told to report to the Will and Grace stage at Universal Studios.
The first person they saw upon arrival wasn’t a production person, as Brian had expected, but Eric McCormack, who plays Will.
And the second person was his co-star Sean Hayes.
“So Indy’s just wagging his tail, and they’re playing with him. Behind them, I can see the Will and Grace set, which was surreal. And I thought: ‘This dog has come so far.’”
Brian was nervous as the shoot progressed, as he wasn’t sure if the scene Indy would be in would entail someone leaving the room and closing a door, which of course might have caused the dog to panic. But it ended up just being Brian walking him on leash; all that ended up in the show was the back of Brian’s head.
A lot of Brian and Roy’s friends were bummed that Indy didn’t make it in the show, but for Brian, that part didn’t matter.
“To me,” he says, “the big win was, for this dog who had such a hard time early on, to watch him completely heal himself, and not only that, but be such a hit on the set of Will and Grace. He got a Hollywood adventure.”
And beyond that, Brian was shocked at how his dog seemed to come alive on set, how much fun he seemed to be having. At one point, one of the camera men yelled out, “That dog loves you so much.”
Brian responded, “You have no idea how much I love this dog.”
He continues, to me: “And how much love saved him.”
Brian appeared on four more episodes of Will and Grace, “after Indy got my foot in the door,” he jokes. At this point, Brian’s done background on more than sixty shows and visited every lot: MGM, Disney, Fox, Universal.
So Brian, who was once apprehensive about leaving the city he’d lived in for 20 years prior to the move, feels he’s already gotten his “why did I come here” education.
And when Indy had his big moment, Brian thought, “Okay, now he has a reason to have been here, too.”
Brian says his biggest learning from the past ten years is that the biggest opportunities can be given by self, to self.
No one took him by the hand and led him to Central Casting. Similarly, years ago in New York, when there was a dry spell in his stage work, he started writing plays for himself to be in, which led him to countless new opportunities he wouldn’t otherwise have had.
And if he had to sum it all up?
“Never, ever wait for someone else to tell you yes when you can say yes to yourself.”
Brian Hampton is an actor, playwright, emcee, and producer. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband Roy Chicas and their miracle dog, Indy. His plays include Checking In and The Jungle Fun Room, among many others. Recently, he took up tap dancing again after a 20-year hiatus.