Best in Show: Canada’s Opera Pets featuring John Fanning, Maria Vetere & Alexandra Lennox

by | May 16, 2022 | Best in Show, News

In our next instalment of Dawn Marten’s series “Best in Show”, we meet a baritone’s long lineup of feathers and fur and two opera-loving dogs that drop everything to listen—they even like to sing along. If you have missed previous chapters of the series, you can read them here: Chapter 1Chapter 2 | Chapter 3


Canadian baritone and coach John Fanning with his Double Doodle Rosie. Photo: Courtesy of John Fanning

John Fanning, baritone and coach 
Rosie, Double Doodle and various other members of the Fanning menagerie

We Fannings have had several pets along the way. Kate and I began married life with two beautiful kittens, Foxy and Sage, which were named after a couple of bands we played in. I went to school at the New England Conservatory in Boston and, when we were married after my first year, Kate and the kitties joined me. Neighbours would borrow them because they were tremendously effective at catching mice. The little beggars seemed to be everywhere in the Back Bay area, but our wee hunters kept our apartment rodent free. We drove back and forth to Boston a couple of times each school year, and it was remarkable that on every return trip home, one of them would throw up in the car about 4 km from our house—I mean, every time! On the very last trip home, we had a breakdown in our old Datsun and one of them managed to get out of the car and run across the Massachusetts Turnpike. Stupidly, I took off after her, but somehow we both made it home!

Since we’ve had kids, we have had Sebastian and Puck, two rather naughty Schnauzers; Raja, a troubled but very gentle and beautiful rescue cat; an Abyssinian named Ares; and Sarge, a wonderful Cockatiel. We were all surprised when, quite a while later, he started laying eggs. Sarge and I were great buds. Her cage was behind my chair at the kitchen table, and she would twist herself any way she could to be as close to me as possible. We did some whistles/singing together, and she would crawl all over me in the studio when I worked. She would sit on my head or shoulder, or would walk along the piano, often pecking at my scores, getting the better of a few. If I was away working for an extended time, she would squawk a blue streak when she heard my voice at the door. She was lovely, and obviously very good for my ego. Alas, she died the very day Puck the Schnauzer made his entry into the house. We were never very good with fish, I’m afraid.

Last summer, we acquired Rosie, a Labradoodle/Goldendoodle cross… so a Double Doodle.

We think she is adorable, and she is a very good girl, although she does dabble in some naughty business just like the Schnauzers. She has been fairly easy to train because she is very food-centric. Her appetite is insatiable, and she will do pretty much anything for a treat. I have never witnessed anything grow so quickly. At almost 9 months she is quite active and gets a lot of attention. I sometimes wonder how people who aren’t retired manage to take care of a dog. She is very sweet, very smart, very fun to have in our lives and makes us laugh a lot!


Canadian soprano and coach Maria Vetere with her Morkie Spencer. Photos: Courtesy of Maria Vetere

Maria Vetere, soprano and coach 
Spencer, Morkie

Spencer Erminio is an eight-month-old Morkie (Yorkshire Terrier and Maltese mixed breed). When I first saw him, he looked like a regal little man, and, being very Italian, most people anticipated I would give him an Italian name. But he just didn’t look like an Italian puppy and the name Spencer immediately stuck out. I have always loved Princess Diana for her regality and elegance. Spencer was a perfect name for my little blonde puppy. Erminio is after my great-grandmother, Erminia, whom I adored and brought me so much joy during her time here on earth.

He came to live with me at six weeks, and was abruptly introduced to opera singing after the first week. At first, he thought I was dying and cried and wanted to be picked up so he could lick me and save me from whatever he thought was happening to me. I tried to figure out how I could get him to understand that I wasn’t dying when I was singing.

One evening, I was watching something on television—he was asleep next to me—when the Flower Duet from Lakmé came on. He woke from a dead sleep, sat up and stared at the television with his head tilted to the side listening. He turned around to look at me, then kept looking at the television, then back at me. That this seven-week-old puppy realized that what he was hearing on TV was the sound that mommy makes was amazing to me. Spencer now will not play with any of his toys or do anything, including eating or drinking, if there is opera singing in the house because he knows it’s something very important. He stops dead when he hears singing. I have even joked around with him by playing fetch (he fetches anything you throw, brings it back and gives you a high five) but then suddenly playing Renata Tebaldi, Pavarotti or Aprile Millo on my stereo; he stops dead and will not touch a toy or move if opera is being sung. The fascinating thing is that we listen to the radio a lot as well, and he doesn’t seem to care about that music at all.

He hasn’t traveled with me yet because I haven’t travelled due to COVID. But when I do, I intend to take Spencer with me because he is now so accustomed to opera that I think it would be detrimental to his health if he didn’t hear it and wasn’t around mom. He has become quite the connoisseur of voices and even looks at me funny if he hears something on TV that is out of tune or a voice he doesn’t particularly like. He likes to wear his bowtie and get dressed up, really enjoys being brushed, and loves the smell of espresso. He loves walks and playing fetch. His favourite toy is his trusty yellow turtle that he’s had since he came home. He’s become a little opera dog and we are always together. He’s my special fur baby and I hope to spend many years together with him.


Canadian soprano and photographer Alexandra Lennox with her Sheltie Bichon cross, Wesley. Photos: Alexandra Lennox

Alexandra Lennox, soprano and photographer 
Wesley, Sheltie Bichon cross

Wesley is a five-year-old half Sheltie and half Bichon, the last puppy left in his litter. That may be because he is a little odd looking. When he was a puppy, he was noticeably cross-eyed, and his most loved and recognizable feature is his one ear up and one ear down. His name is Wesley because we thought he looked like a little professor; he’s always deep in thought.

Wesley loves to be close when I am practicing and learning music. If he could sit on my lap at the piano while I play, he would. I am a coloratura soprano and my repertoire is very high. Wes likes to howl along and sing harmonies when I am singing, and he’s always in tune. I am often surprised at his ability to sound just like me, though maybe I should be worried about this. Even though he is very shy, Wesley loves to walk around when I am teaching and has become a little mascot for my home studio. He runs away from anyone who tries to pet him; even students I have taught for years can’t get closer than a few feet.

I am also a professional photographer who has covered wedding showers, graduation photos and a series of shots for Domoney Artists’ “Operabreaks” campaign. I also take head shots, concert photos, events, family portraits, and, interestingly enough, pet photos. Wesley is great at posing. He knows when the camera comes out that animals are around, or we are going outside, or for a walk. I always say that “finding your light” runs in the family because he always manages to find the most dramatic place to sit.

Wesley is a total homebody and wouldn’t want to travel anywhere. Since I’m in the Canadian Opera Company chorus, I don’t travel to perform anyway, so this works out well for the both of us. Wesley provides an immense amount of comfort and love at home for me, and his schedule keeps me on mine. He is always right by my side whether I’m cooking, sitting on the couch, or feeding the birds in the backyard. He is my shadow. One of the best feelings in the world is coming home and having his excited little self say hello after a long show and tiresome drive. He is very smart and intuitive and always knows when to cheer me up when I’m exhausted.
Wesley loves to sit on the lounge chair in our pool and float around like he’s on vacation. We push the lounger close to the edge of the pool and he climbs on to enjoy a good tan. He’s a total diva. Wesley’s cute asymmetrical style has garnered a lot of fans on his Instagram account. He’s a star in his own right.

Readers, if you know a Canadian artist with a beloved pet that you’d love to see featured in our “Best in Show: Canada’s Opera Pets” series, let us know! Write our team in the comments below, or get in touch at

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Dawn Martens

Dawn Martens received a 2010 Ruby Award for opera education, as well as a 2020 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching for an online children’s production of Brundibar. A writer for Opera Canada for over 20 years, she is currently the host of Opera Night in Canada on 100.9 Canoe FM.



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