2016-12-15 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Birmingham Ballet or Bust!” is this travel log by my Edgar Afghan Poe as he journeyed to Alabama with Jasmine, his Afghan best gal; Aunt Annette and Mom for rehearsals leading to his debut in “The Muttcracker” last Friday. Jasmine was a ballerina in 2015 plus a veteran of “The Today Show” so she’s a perfect mentor for Edgar.

Cindy Free, founder/artistic director of the Birmingham Ballet, choreographs “The Muttcracker.” This year 30 dogs, including many rescues, performed on stage alongside her dancers. The canine cast decked out in costumes sweetens Tchaikovsky’s Christmas classic, while celebrating the bond we have with our dogs. Paw missteps bring chuckles from the audience which the dog dancers interpret as admiration.

The idea for “The Muttcracker” has ties to Afghan Hound Rescue. Martha Powell of Alabaster, AL is Afghan Hound Club of America Rescue national chair. “A few Afghans should walk across the stage in “The Nutcracker,”” Martha suggested to her Zumba instructor who is a veteran ballet teacher and Cindy Free’s mother. Beginning in 2011 Martha’s late “Stormy” danced with the Wizard Drosselmeyer, as long as he had a Beggin’ Strip taped to his shoulder. Now his sister “Sleet,” a blonde cutie with a bell bottom haircut and metronome tail, dances in his paw prints. This year Act II “Angel Dance” began with seven Afghans in gossamer wings, their heavenly coats flowing, breezing across the stage led by teenage Sprites.


Cindy Free directs Edgar during “Muttcracker” rehearsal Cindy Free directs Edgar during “Muttcracker” rehearsal Edgar’s travel log below is commentary on the first half of his 2,000- mile excursion into the arts: *Mon., 12/5- My Mom got the bright idea to drive me to “The Muttcracker” because everyone was amazed at how relaxed I was at the Afghan Hound National Specialty in Rhode Island last fall. I’m considered emotionally fragile due to my early ordeal as one of the 67 Afghans rescued from a New Mexico hoarder house. However, at the National, I enjoyed being among many Afghans, sleeping in a hotel and running around the ring during the Parade of Rescue. So it was decided- I was Birmingham Bound.


Edgar & Jasmine waiting to go on stage Edgar & Jasmine waiting to go on stage I whined non-stop when we were stuck on the Belt Pkwy during rush hour so we could meet up with Jasmine and Aunt Annette in Toms River. It was great walking with Jasmine and her new sister Carly. (She joined their Afghan household recently after her dear owner died.) But I had no idea the first 112 miles were a warm-up to 500 more to a NC midpoint. Jasmine and I snuggled together as an Afghan sandwich on the backseat of the van. At the motel she snoozed on a bed while I sprawled out on my blankie. *Tues., 12/7- Yikes! 500 more miles sharing the backseat until we reached the Westin Hotel in Birmingham where we were treated like royalty. The guests and staff flocked to pet us. Jasmine showed me how to negotiate a revolving door and elevator. Pam Barnes, the kind concierge who owned an Afghan long ago, welcomed us with holiday treat bags. That night we enjoyed room service with tastes lobster roll and prime rib on French bread. We strolled in a park lit up by sparkling snowflakes. I could get used to this life. *Wed.,12/8- Westin delivered their heavenly dog bed to our room. Mom took a photo of me resting my head on this huge pillow for Pam, the concierge. She was making a scrapbook of photos of her new Afghan pals.


Edgar offers Afghan Hound solidarity toward peace Edgar offers Afghan Hound solidarity toward peace Then off to rehearsal for us- first day on stage for whole cast. We were fitted for wings. Mine are purple; Jasmine’s are pink. We met other dog dancers backstage. Duke is a Great Dane, a gentle giant (therapy dog like my Jasmine), a towering 42 inches at the shoulder, found as a stray in Michigan; while Scarlett is a Chihuahua saved by Little Star Chihuahua Rescue when a woman had to surrender her because she claimed her husband would shoot the poor pup. Pig the Dog, internet sensation born with short spine syndrome, was back to pirouette in a tutu as a Sugar Plum Fairy. Borzoi Nyusha brought her sister Anna. She is in the Arabian dance and Anna is a majestic, white dog in the snow scene.

I met the Alabama Afghans- Sleet and Tomi-Girl (who’ll be 12 on Christmas Eve). We were paired with dance partners. Mine is CJ, a lovely 13-year-old girl. The scene begins with us pretending to sleep like angels. I wanted no part of scary stuff so I practically dragged poor CJ off the stage until Cindy, our ballet director, intervened to show me no one meant any harm. Anne Marie Mitchell, a lovely dog trainer, was standing nearby to offer moral support too. *Thurs., 12/8- Interesting morning. We walked a mile to Edgar’s Bakery, a landmark named after me. We waited at the outdoor cafe where customers and workers were mesmerized by our blonde coats. On the way back, I learned about social causes. People were protesting outside the criminal court. A sweet lady who looked like Mrs. Claus explained an execution was scheduled for 6 p.m., and they were against the death penalty. Aunt Annette spied the word “Afghan” on the back of her sign which Mrs. Claus flipped over to reveal “End the Wars- Afghanistan & Iraq.” I posed for a photo with her to show Afghan Hound solidarity for peace.

Wearing snoods, clips and boots, Georgia Afghan show dogs -Stryker (my clone), Tiki, Bailey- arrived at our hotel. Our Afghan quintet entertained folks in the lobby and promoted Muttcracker ticket sales. Pam the concierge would be attending as well as several guests. Then it was time for dress rehearsal. I had no idea an Angel and Drosselmeyer would be swinging over us on wires while we pretended to nap. Such an ethereal effect didn’t faze us. Afghan prima ballerinas are pros. *Fri., 12/9- Show time! Jasmine and I got our beauty rest in the room while our moms and Auntie Birdie (who flew in from Florida) were off gallivanting. We were brushed for the ballet, and waited patiently in the green room for Act II. Sprays of lavender calmed our jitters. Someone should’ve sprayed my mom because she spilled her Coke dangerously close to my fluffed-up hairdo. Aunt Martha’s groomers stayed with us so our families could see the show.

The Afghan Angels 7 performed beautifully before a packed audience despite Tomi-Girl’s pretty collar popping off while we were prancing around the stage. Our proud moms stood on stage with us for the bow-wow bows of the whole cast. I LOVED my Muttcracker road trip even though there will be another 1,000 miles home. But, I’ll truly miss my BFF Jasmine when this dog dream trip ends.

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