Man parlaying a pet trick into winter’s fun |

Man parlaying a pet trick into winter’s fun

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily/Preston UtleyJohnny Mitchell and his dog Austin Thursday at the Skatepark in Edwards. Mitchell and Austin have been busy this winter traveling to Aspen, Sundance and even Torino for the winter olympics.

EAGLE COUNTY – Now this is a dog’s life.Austin, a 3-year-old Pomeranian who’s shaved like a lion, has had an eventful winter, partying with models, traveling the globe, and, at the Winter Olympics, sleeping in the suitcase of former Playboy Playmate Tina Jordan.While Austin has been living in the lap – or suitcase – of luxury, his human, Johnny Mitchell, has been along for the ride.Mitchell and Austin’s wild ride started when the dog was just a pup. He quickly learned how to balance on Mitchell’s forearm. Imagine a pirate’s parrot, that looks like a lion, riding closer to the wrist. Soon, Austin could balance while Mitchell rode a skateboard.People went nuts for the dog-man act from the moment the two rode a skateboard up and down Broadway in Nashville.Soon, Austin and Mitchell started getting invited to events in Nashville in order to draw crowds and create a buzz. Those appearances usually came with a small paycheck, or at least an invitation to events. To make ends meet, Mitchell drums in a band and is also an artist, a personal trainer and a massage therapist.But, sensing the skateboarding-riding thing with Austin could develop into at least a few minutes of fame, he went with it.He started shooting video, and is in the middle of creating a semi-documentary, “Flyin’ Lion.” So last year he took what he’d shot so far to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. There, he ran into the creator of “Aspen, the Series,” a Web-based comedy.That contact led to crowd-amping at the Winter X Games in Aspen, which in turn led to a trip to Sestriere, Italy and the Winter Olympics.Since beauty is a big part of the crowd-goosing game, Austin and Mitchell found themselves in pretty much the constant company of models, Miss Budweiser, Miss Hooters, and the aforementioned former Playmate of the Month. He’s also spent the winter hanging out with celebrities including Dave Chappell and Tom Green.”I’m getting paid to hang out with my dog and party ’til the sun comes up,” Mitchell said.Vail connectionSo how did Mitchell end up in Vail?Actually, he’d lived in the valley for a few seasons dating from the early 1990s when he was a nanny for Minturn artist Randy Milhoan’s kids. After the Olympics, he came back to Vail for the annual film festival, then was hired by Baccardi Rum to work the crowd at last weekend’s pond-skimming contest.The pay isn’t great. Mostly, Mitchell and Austin get air fare or gas money to travel, then get fed and put up in places from dorm rooms to mansions. At the moment, Mitchell and Austin are flopping on Milhoan’s floor.But it’s been quite a winter, and once people see Austin and Mitchell, they remember.”I was standing outside the Vatican, when some French students recognized us from the Olympics,” Mitchell said.And being noticed is what it’s all about. There’s “Flyin’ Lion” to finish, of course, and songs ready to be recorded with his band back in Nashville.”I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” he said. “But I know something’s going to happen.”Face timeJohnny Mitchell has been to busy to watch them, but he and his dog Austin have appeared on:-The Tonight Show- ESPN’s Top Plays- Winter X Games coverage- “Aspen the Series,” a Web-based comedy show- The HBO Comedy Festival in AspenStaff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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