Editors’ note: Lieutenant Dan won the 2020 Cadbury Bunny Tryouts and served as a guest judge for the 2021 tryouts, won by Betty, an Australian White’s treefrog, the first amphibian to win.
What do you get when you strap a set of rabbit ears on a sweet but spunky disabled hound? New Richmond residents Laura Person and her husband Justin are hoping the answer is: The next Cadbury “Bunny,” in the form of their own two-legged canine, Lieutenant Dan—a dog who could melt even the hardest of hearts.
For 35 years, Cadbury Chocolate has been running an Easter-time ad featuring random animals—think pig, lion, and more—donning rabbit ears and “auditioning” for the role of Cadbury Bunny. Last year, the company invited U.S. consumers to submit audition tapes of their family pets instead, for a shot at a cameo in the ad. The winner, an English bulldog named Henri, also got $5,000 (and Cadbury donated $10,000 to the ASPCA as well).
This year, the contest opened in early February; Person, who works for MedVet, discovered it at the last minute. Lt. Dan was one of “over 4,000 entries total,” she says, but ended up clearing both the first and second rounds and making it into the top 10 finalists. His competition is stiff: two cats, two other dogs, a hamster, a duck, a llama, a pig, and even a miniature horse named Ricky Bobby. But as of Wednesday, March 11, the last time Cadbury posted rankings, Lt. Dan was in first place. Voting ended a week later, and the winner will be announced Tuesday, March 24.
A bit of Lt. Dan’s backstory: Justin and Laura found the Treeing Walker Coonhound (“a fast, hot-nosed, sensible hunter,” says AKC.org, of the breed) on an online rescue dog forum. Lt. Dan was born with a tail and hind legs but, from birth, all three were non-functional, says Person, and ended up needing to be amputated. His name—a tribute to the fearless lieutenant in the movie Forrest Gump, who ends up a double amputee after the Vietnam War—was given by his first foster mom, Person says. She and Justin call him Lou for short. Except when he’s being “naughty,” she adds. Then it’s the full ‘Lieutenant Dan.’ Or just plain ‘Sir.’
The couple has four dogs altogether and says Lt. Dan is completely unfazed by his lack of hind legs. Sure enough, his Instagram and Facebook pages are peppered with videos of Lt. Dan running down stairs, swimming, wrestling with doggie friends, and playing fetch. “He tolerates his wheels” in dog parks and other public spaces, says Person, but spends most of his time at home without them. “We do everything we can to protect him” she adds, “but he has to be a dog.”
If Lt. Dan wins Cadbury’s contest, Person says the prize money will go toward medical and other expenses for their dogs. Either way, the Persons have enjoyed being part of the process. “People love to see his story, and we love to share it,” Person says. “He’s inspiring to people. It puts a smile on your face, instead of all the other stuff going on right now.”