The Rescuer

At the top of his game, a theatre grad takes on a new role: best friend to the dog he saved.

By Brett McPherson

Publish Date: June 23, 2014

Dreher and Fisht. Photo: Mark Woolcott


Neil Dreher (BFA theatre ’05) is a globetrotting stage technician who has worked on some of the most sophisticated productions in the world.

But lately, he is best known for what he did behind the scenes during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Dreher is a theatrical automation specialist, the person who is responsible for “moving scenery, flying performers, anything that is mechanically moved,” he says. “The industry is small but the projects are big.”

Now at the height of his career, Dreher has reached a whole new pinnacle of responsibility: caring for a loving canine who would not have survived without him.

Dreher is currently in charge of DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular in Beijing, following work on two different Cirque du Soleil shows. He has also outfitted the world’s largest cruise liner, located in Finland, with its automation infrastructure.

“My focus originally was in lighting design, and then I went to work on cruise ships, which led to working on Cirque du Soleil,” he says. “Then I got offered to do the Olympics.”

And it was during the Olympics that Dreher met his new best friend.

To clean up the city’s image for the Winter Games, Sochi officials hired Basya Services, a pest control company, to rid the town of stray dogs.

“There was a huge public outcry,” Dreher says. The Humane Society got involved, and fundraising campaigns were launched to protect dogs targeted for euthanasia.

As Dreher was setting up for the opening ceremonies in the Fisht Olympic Stadium, a mixed-breed stray cozied up to him. Their fondness for each other grew quickly, and before long Dreher decided to save the dog, who he named Fisht after the place where they met.

But staying together wasn’t easy. “Everybody was telling me to leave the dogs alone – that they were diseased and mean,” he says. Dreher’s hotel would not allow Fisht indoors, so she stayed in a kennel that he provided.

Bringing Fisht to the United States was an expensive proposition. So Dreher launched an online fundraising campaign that ultimately raised more than $6,400 for Fisht’s shots, training and travel. “I was surprised by how many people wanted to help out a dog and a stranger on the other side of the planet,” he says. After Dreher completed his work on the Olympics, the two arrived in the U.S. together on March 18.

Fisht will be staying in the states while Dreher works on the show in China. “For the short term, because of the paperwork and everything, I have friends of all kinds who are trustworthy people and can care for her,” he explains. But his long-term goal is to take Fisht with him to the exotic places where he works.

Dreher is grateful for all the support that he and Fisht have received. “It really has changed my view of humanity as a whole,” he says.