Ever since senior Malena Valenote was a young child, she has had a love for animals. Today, that love has turned into a career as Valenote trains animals for the film industry and works at a horse barn.
Valenote learned to train horses and other animals by observing and assisting her mom and other trainers.
“I was always interested in it and would try to get away from school to go work as much as I could. started by assisting my mom on jobs. I went to my first job on set in fifth grade,” Valenote said.
Valenote is a freelance worker but typically works through Studio Animal Services, a company that provides trained animals for the film industry.
She trains animals for TV shows, commercials, movies, and short films. In the past, she has worked for both Farmers Insurance and Disney Channel. Her work has taken her around the globe.
“I shoot on location all over. It’s taken me to France and Canada,” Valenote said. “Over this past summer I was working for a company in Germany, so I flew there by myself and worked on a German TV show with some dogs.”
Valenote trains all species of animals, but mostly works with dogs and cats.
“Mostly [I work with] domestic dogs and cats. But I’ve also worked with the AFLAC ducks and birds. I trained a dog named Eddie for Hawaii Five-0, and now he’s full time on Hawaii Five-0,” Valenote said. “I’ve gotten to assist with some exotics like capuchin monkeys and a joey, so a baby kangaroo. That’s the most fun stuff, the exotics.”
Valenote enjoys the variety of animals she has the opportunity to work with.
“It’s really interesting interacting with different species and with animals. Just as individuals, they’re all so different,” Valenote said.
Each animal she trains reacts differently to training techniques.
“One thing you do with one dog might not work with another dog, or one thing you do with a cat might not work with a monkey or a bird. You need to learn what they respond to well,” Valenote said. “One dog responds well to food. Others like toys and others like praise.”
A job for Valenote in the film industry consists of two elements: the prep, which is training the animals for the role, and the filming.
“It can be a two day shoot with a couple day prep or it could be a movie [that is] a couple months long and you prep a few weeks for it,” Valenote said.
Valenote says that an animal trainer is behind every movement made by an animal in a film.
“Everything is planned,” Valenote said. “It’s interesting because it seems like a natural movement, but you have to be able to have the animal do it 20 or 30 times. Anything you see in a movie is a trainer. We train them a lot of bad things like I’m jumping out of cars [and] biting people.”
Currently, Valenote also works at a horse show barn, Tilley Andalusians, as an assistant to the head trainer.
“I help prepare his horses for him and also help exercise them in different ways,” Valenote said. “I love working with horses, although the exotics or more exciting.”
Valenote plans to attend college, but also wants to continue working with animals.
“I would love to continue, I really enjoy the business. I’m really hoping to get some jobs this summer and go on location for movies.” Valenote said. “I still want to expand my mind and options first [by going to college].
While many filmmakers are currently using computer-generated images (CGI) to create animal images for their films, there is still a demand for animal trainers in the industry.
“It’s interesting to see how like animal training with real stuff is going to work in with CGI because currently, a lot of movies are using CGI but you still need live animals to get that CGI,” Valenote said.
Working with animals has taught Valenote the importance of providing for others.
“It’s taught me the importance of being able to put others before you. If you [are] in charge of an animal, they need to be fed and taken to the bathroom before you can have dinner or you can wake up,” Valenote said.
For Valenote, animal training is not always easy. It requires a lot of time and focus.
“Working on set is really long days. It can be like 16 hour days. It’s a lot of work and it’s definitely not for everyone,” Valenote said. “It’s not always a fantasy, accidents happen. It’s hard work. It’s really physically demanding, but I think it’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”