It’s a riddle that’ll never make it into the books: What do a gaggle of viral cats, a three-legged French bulldog, and a performing chicken have in common? Answer: They’ve all worked with Colleen Wilson and Melissa May Curtis, whose animal talent agency, Pets on Q, is now the subject of Netflix’s cutest new series, Pet Stars.
With five episodes that each clock in under 30 minutes, Pet Stars is a quick, breezy watch, as Wilson and Curtis scour the web—and the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, and a reptile convention, and other wild outlets—for creatures that exude that certain je ne sais quoi. Curtis and Wilson are both TV naturals, with a bubbly, genuine chemistry that shines best in moments when one is gently razzing the other for this thing or that. (Don’t miss the episode where Wilson patiently nods along as Curtis explains her deep abiding passion for reiki—while an intuitive healer works on an admittedly zen-looking Dalmatian.)
Wilson was working as a private mortgage banker in New York City when she began handling animals on production sets as a side job. Eventually, she found her niche working with animal influencers—a business that for the past six years or so has expanded and, in some spaces, supplanted set animals.
Wilson’s deaf Dalmatian, Charlie, is also a high-profile pooch in his own right, with 19,500 followers on Instagram. As she managed Charlie’s career, Wilson’s interest in managing other influencer animals began to expand even further.
Things took off when Wilson moved to Los Angeles and began working in the same office as Curtis. The two bonded over their love for their disabled animals—Melissa’s old dog, Sadie, had three legs—and their shared dream of one day opening an animal sanctuary.
“Pretty early on, I said, ‘Hey, I want to come work for you,’” Curtis recalled during a conversation with Wilson and The Daily Beast. “What do I have to do to retire from finance and come work for you?”
When Wilson left the finance world in 2017 to make her side hustle her full-time gig, Curtis followed.
Wilson knows that some viewers might come away from Pet Stars concerned that these influencer animals are being exploited. “I think a lot of people might see this and think, ‘You’re pimping out animals,’” she said. “But really, it’s—we’re trying to fix that.”
Pets on Q does not work with any illegally owned exotic animals; for projects that require an exotic, they collaborate with a sanctuary. (“The last thing we want to do is encourage anybody to go out and get an exotic pet or anything like that because, you know, there’s just no way to work with them and have it be good for that animal,” Curtis said.)
Wilson noted that unlike set animals, many animal influencers can be photographed in their home or natural environment, evading the stress of a set. Pets on Q also uses temperament testing and training to ensure that set animals they work with are comfortable as well.
Sometimes during the process, it becomes evident that an animal with a massive social media following will nonetheless be better off simply living as a house pet, at which point they do not work with that animal. Whenever Wilson and her colleagues do feel as though an animal is being exploited, she said, “we kind of feel like it’s our role to stand up for that animal and make sure that they feel comfortable and safe.”
Pets on Q has worked with a variety of animals over the years, from furry to scaly. But when asked to name the strangest or most specialized animal they’d ever seen, both named birds—and one of them, Koa the “trick chicken,” appears on the Netflix series. She’s also an America’s Got Talent alum, along with her handler, 13-year-old Lauren.
The term “bird brain” has always belied the creatures’ true intelligence—but even knowing that, Koa is still a damn impressive bird. She does agility tricks! She runs across Lauren’s shoulders on command! She’ll hop anywhere on command for some food!
“I would say Koa is up there for me,” Curtis said. “Because it’s a chicken, for crying out loud!”
For Wilson, meanwhile, the winner was the naked bird Rhea, who was born with a disease that made her featherless, and who could fit in the palm of a person’s hand.
“She was so sassy and had such a personality,” Wilson said. “I just kind of couldn't believe it. I was a little bit star-struck over this bird that was like, the size of my thumb.”
Each episode of Pet Stars finds Wilson and Curtis on a new adventure, whether that’s observing a surf dog contest or overseeing a commercial shoot involving a lot of famous cats. But perhaps the most “Netflix-y” moments of all comes when Wilson and Curtis take a troubled rescue Dalmatian named Sienna to a healing session. Come for the shots of a blissed-out pooch sitting amongst the crystals and taking in her sound bath, and stay for a fascinating description of the meditation pyramid Curtis uses at home.
And for those who want to know more about how to get zen with their pooch, Curtis made a video for Pets on Q about how to meditate with your dog—co-starring an absolutely zonked-out pup named Meatball.
But really, if Curtis can leave you with one bit of wisdom, it’s this: “If anybody ever has a chance to go to a World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, please go. You will not be disappointed.”