Millions knew him as Jonathan Bower in the popular 1980s and 1990s TV series “Who’s the Boss,” in which he starred alongside Tony Danza and Alyssa Milano.
Photographers snapped him on red carpets. Magazines like Tiger Beat featured him. He was even interviewed by Oprah.
But as glamorous as it all might sound, former child actor Danny Pintauro, now 43, said he’s only now living out his true dream job — as a vet tech and cat care attendant at Austin Pets Alive.
“He’s something of a wonder around the animals,” said Katera Berent, communications and events manager at Austin Pets Alive, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides resources, education and programs to eliminate the killing of companion animals. “You can sense the love he feels for each cat and dog he’s caring for."
On a recent afternoon at Austin Pets Alive’s Town Lake Animal Center, Pintauro — sporting a man-bun, a beard and scrubs that read “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone” — ducked into a small room to check on a group of cats diagnosed with feline leukemia virus.
“As a very young kid, this is literally what I wanted to do when I grew up. Even though I was on TV, every summer I would work at this vet office near my house in LA and clean kennels or whatever they would let me do,” he said. “I loved it.”
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When he attended Stanford University, he initially planned to study to be a veterinarian but ultimately majored in drama with a directing focus. But while he enjoyed acting, Pintauro said he didn’t like “the business of being an actor.”
“I’m sure if I had really persevered for years and years to suffer through it, maybe I would have gotten somewhere,” he said, adding that he's still open to acting if a role is the right fit. “But I always used to say when you sit in a windowsill and you think about your life, and you think about everything you love to do, it wasn’t acting for me. Especially for me being a gay child celebrity, it just wasn’t worth it.”
Pintauro was living in Las Vegas with his husband, William Pintauro-Tabares, a couple of years ago when they both realized they needed a change.
“You can only have so much Vegas before you’re just done,” he said.
They made a list of three cities where they’d like to relocate.
“Austin was the one that won out by far,” said Pintauro, who had visited Austin only once before deciding to move here. "We had one month to move everything from Vegas. We literally made the decision on a whim.”
His husband got a job working at the now-closed resort Travaasa, and Pintauro briefly owned a bonsai tree business. Then, he saw an ad for an opening at Austin Pets Alive.
“I was totally willing to just be like the kennel cleaner,” he said. “Here, at 40 years old, like, ‘I’ll do it! I’ll clean up the poop!’ If it gets me in the door, let’s see!”
Pintauro soon worked his way up from kennel tech to cat care specialist and then, a few weeks ago, was promoted to vet tech.
“This is the thing I always thought I was supposed to do, so it fits that this is where I should find myself. It is the one thing that really has felt the most completing, the most natural and has had the least amount of drama,” he said. “I worked really hard to get to a place where they felt I could step in and do it.”
He also made a point not to tell his co-workers about his star-studded past.
“I wanted them to learn who I was just as me, doing a good job. One of the front desk girls at the clinic, she just found out yesterday. I think it’s good, because nobody’s going around making a big deal about it,” he said, adding that he gets recognized every couple of weeks around town. “Nobody cares anymore. And half the people in Austin are all too young to have even been alive for the reruns, never mind the actual series.”
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On any given day, Pintauro could be helping to care for dozens of animals, doing everything from administering medications to syringe-feeding to inserting microchips.
“At one point earlier this year I was taking care of over 80 cats a day. (In most places) the shelters in whatever city you live in have set protocols and rules on what they can keep alive and what they can’t,” he said. “We created a program and said, ‘Just give them to us. We’ll figure it out.’”
Berent said Austin Pets Alive, which has been instrumental in making Austin a no-kill city, is lucky to have an employee, and supporter, like Pintauro.
"We recently (took in) a few dogs who were going to be shot and killed if we hadn’t intervened, and even though Danny was all focused on cats that day, he still came over to check on the dogs," she said. "That’s the kind of person he is. Kindhearted, dedicated and a true animal advocate.”
Pintauro said Austin has been incredibly welcoming to his family. His husband, Pintauro-Tabares, currently works at a bank but is also a flamenco dancer and was asked to be part of a company, and Pintauro hosts a popular karaoke night at the downtown club Rain on Mondays. Although they rent a duplex in Allandale that they share with their three rescue dogs — including one, Bacon, who was adopted from Austin Pets Alive — they’re also looking at houses to buy in Round Rock.
“(In Austin) you’ve got this random collection of people who just know they’re going to be in a place where people are going to be accepting of them,” he said. “They can take a breath and get their crap together. You see those success stories with all of our friends. It’s a very open and welcoming group, especially the gay community. We’ve had no trouble making friends, better than we’ve had at any other city that I’ve lived in.”
Austin, Pintauro said, is a place where people, and animals, can find a second chance.
“I used to say New York City, the city itself, goes out of its way to make your life as difficult as possible. The city, not the people, the actual city,” he said. “Austin as a city goes out of its way to make you feel like you can get it together and find yourself and find what you need and find what you want. It allows you to feel like you can do all the things you’ve always wanted to do growing up.”
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