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Jesse Tyler Ferguson has a serious case of puppy love. The Modern Family star recently adopted a dog with his husband, Justin Mikita, and introduced the adorable pooch to the world at a special red carpet pet adoption event hosted by Purina ONE and spcaLA in Santa Monica, California, to promote the ONE Difference campaign.
Dogs of all kinds walked the runway, met with prospective owners in the "green room," and even got the paparazzi treatment — not to mention lots of hugs and selfies with adoring fans. Hey, it's Hollywood.
Unfortunately, Jesse's new pup, Fennel, had a little case of stage fright. "He's really shy," Ferguson explained when he had trouble coaxing the Maltese poodle mix onstage. It was good practice for Fennel, though, who is going to have to get used to living in the spotlight since his dad is an actor.
In honor of the pooches, Ferguson revealed to Yahoo why he is all about pet adoption, how he picked Fennel's name, and, while he was at it, how his Modern Family character, Mitchell, has evolved.
Why was it important for you to take part in this pet adoption initiative with Purina ONE?
I became a first-time dog owner five years ago, so I went from being someone who likes dogs to someone who loves dogs and is very passionate about dogs. When Purina approached me about teaming up with Petfinder to bring awareness to adoption, taking dogs out of shelters and giving them good homes, I really jumped at the opportunity because we were also looking for a brother or sister for our current dog, Leaf. So it really worked out well. It's just important to give these dogs homes.
What do you think is the most common misconception that people have about adopting an animal?
The biggest misconception that I had myself is that dogs that are in shelters are dogs that have problems and that are not safe, but that’s just not the case. A lot of dogs do have emotional problems, but all they need is a good home and someone who has the time to put in to rewiring and reteaching them. And then there are a lot of dogs who are perfectly lovely dogs who happen to come from lovely homes, where maybe their owner is deceased or they weren’t compatible with one of the other pets. Almost all the dogs that I know that have been adopted have really, truly known that they’ve been saved, and they’re the best pets that their owners could possibly ask for. They’re very loyal, and they know that they’ve been given a second chance.
What was it about Fennel that made you go, "Yep, that's my dog!"
We sort of let Leaf decide. Fennel came over for a play date, and he got along really well with Fennel, and Fennel seemed to really take to us as well. He had a lot of personality, he's still very young — he’s only 8 months old — so all of those were qualities we were looking for.
I heard you saying you named him Fennel because you love to cook and went looking through the spice rack for naming inspiration?
Yes, we had a few other names on the table that I did not approve. Justin had some names like Ramekin, Cumin, and I think Cilantro was in there. So I opened up the spice drawer and said, "If we're going to go on that route, let me at least offer a few other options." And Fennel really stuck.
What would you say are the defining quirks or characteristics of your pets and you as a dog owner?
I think how we are as dog owners is certainly precluding how we're going to be as parents. I’m probably the one who’s more laid back, and Justin is sort of the disciplinarian. Justin has also had dogs his whole life and I'm sort of a new dog owner, so I've been letting him take the reins and learning a lot from him. But Leaf is a small dog and he loves to let us know when he's around. When there's someone new in his environment, he's very vocal and loves to play. Sometimes he barks at you until you throw a toy, and then you're his new best friend. Maybe not the best guard dog, but certainly personable.
We have to ask you a couple of questions about Modern Family since it will be returning to the airwaves soon in its seventh season. How do you feel about the evolution of Mitch and Cam's relationship since the series began back in 2009?
Well, there’s a sense of ease and comfortability, and we've certainly earned a sort of short-hand with our audiences. With all these characters, you can sort of skip over a lot of steps... you know how they're going to react to [different] things. So there's a familiarity with these characters that allows us to then delve deeper into their relationship because the audience feels like they're a part of that relationship. I feel like that's something you can only earn after seven years.
In a recent interview with Variety, you said that you felt Modern Family helped change perceptions on gay couples. How do you see that relationship evolving to continue to open America's eyes to what it's all about?
I think you continue to show flaws with all these characters. You allow them to not be perfect people and you allow them to have the same issues and problems as all of America has. I think a relatability is key to all these characters, so that they can see themselves in Mitch and Cam and Claire and Phil, and that they go through the same struggles that everyone goes through.
Your bow tie line, Tie the Knot, helped raise money to support marriage equality, and I love how on the main page of the site it now says "Our Work Continues." What's the company's focus now that gay marriage is legal?
There's still a lot of work to be done for full equality because while we have the right to marry, there's still a lot of discrimination. So we're looking to help make sure people are protected in their workplaces and private lives, but also just outreach and education. Going into schools and getting kids when they're younger, and helping them to realize it's important to be inclusive and understanding of all types of people. So we're shifting to a lot of outreach, and we're happy to raise funds and continue down that road.
Any chance you're going to launch a bow tie line for dogs?
We were actually just talking about this today! I think it'd be a really fun idea. We got Leaf into one of our bow ties once for a photo shoot. It was a human-sized bow tie around his neck, so he was constantly swatting at it. So I feel like if we could just streamline it a little bit, that would be a great idea.
If you're interested in helping shelter dogs find forever homes, learn more about Purina's ONE Difference Campaign. The brand will donate $10 to the Petfinder Foundation for each person who signs up for the program during the month of August.