PORTLAND, Maine - Glenn Close's signature characters have boiled a bunny, plotted the skinning of Dalmatian puppies and, more recently, helped arrange the killing of a pet dog to leverage a balky witness. She suggests that her new business venture is a form of penance.
"I'm in a redemption mode, to get back to my real self," joked Close, the five-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Golden Globe winner. "The real truth is that I've been surrounded by dogs my entire life."
Close was accompanied by Bill and Jake, her two "Montana terrier mutts," during a recent stop at the offices of Fetchdog, the company that got its start in October with her husband, biotechnology entrepreneur David Shaw, as lead investor. It's a dog-friendly workplace where a Jack Russell terrier, a standard poodle and a golden retriever, among others, roam the corridors and greet visitors.
Close, who writes a blog on http://www.fetchdog.com , is the public face of the business that sells high-end beds, bowls, leashes, carriers, toys and other dog products by catalog and on the Internet while building an online community of Web surfers whose dogs are an essential part of their lives.
Fetchdog is part of a trend toward online and catalog shopping by pet owners, said Leah Nelson, spokeswoman for the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Owners spent roughly $7.3 billion on their dogs last year, Nelson said, and the sluggish economy has not taken much of a toll on the industry.
In her blog, "Lively Licks," Close interviews celebrities about their dogs, profiles people who train or work with dogs and answers questions on topics ranging from puppy training to canine health and nutrition. And like actor Paul Newman's line of "Newman's Own" salad dressings, spaghetti sauces and other grocery items, Fetchdog funnels a portion of its proceeds to charity.
The subjects of Close's blog at Fetchdog pick a favorite dog-related cause as their designated charity. Martha Stewart, for example, chose the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When shoppers place their orders through Stewart's page, the ASPCA receives roughly 6 percent of the price.
Other celebrity interviewees include Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson, who directed contributions to Little Angels Pug Rescue, and Dan Zelman and Debra Messing, who selected Animal Rescue New Orleans.
In one of Close's blogs, she and Shaw take part in a training exercise with ski patrol member Tracy Christensen and Mick, his avalanche rescue dog. A video narrated by Close shows the couple buried beneath 4 feet of snow while the yellow Lab catches their scent and leads his handler to their rescue.
Close's love of dogs began in her childhood, when her family took in "the most motley assortment of New York street dogs - rescue dogs - and they were just a total part of our life." A rescue mutt from Tennessee was her companion at William & Mary College, accompanying her to classes, serving as the theater department mascot and going with her to New York when she launched her career.
Close has since had a succession of smaller dogs, including a bichon-like Coton de Tulear, a papillon and her current companions, whose lineage appears to be a mix of cairn terrier, West Highland white terrier and indeterminate other breeds. They are a constant presence during the shooting of "Damages," FX cable network's critically acclaimed legal drama in which she plays high-powered attorney Patty Hewes.
Although Close and Shaw spend most of the year at their home overlooking the sea at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, she will soon resume her commute to New York for the shooting of the next season of "Damages," scheduled to begin next month.
In the show's pilot, Close's character was complicit in an arrangement to kill a reluctant witness' dog in a devious scheme to get her to testify - evoking her portrayals of Cruella de Vil in "101 Dalmatians" and Alex Forrest, the deranged stalker and rabbit killer of "Fatal Attraction."
For fans who might harbor doubts about the actress' true feelings toward animals, Close offers assurance that those roles are "the opposite of how I am."
And really, would an animal-hater bring her dogs to the set of a serious TV show?
"They really change the atmosphere of the set when they come on. People just love it," Close said. "And as long as they're in a place where you can't hear their toenails click when the camera turns on, then we're fine."