2017-02-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

As I type in my hotel room with an incredible view of the Empire State Building lit in Westminster purple, the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is about to begin. NYC is overflowing with over 3,000 dogs bound for the show. Other dog events are held around the Garden; the talk of the town is about the magic between dogs and people.

Westminster is much more than a coronation of a canine as Best In Show. It’s a chronicle of how the species canis familiaris and this dog show are woven into American history and culture. It’s a celebration of all dogs, including yours at home; their unconditional devotion; their genetic shape-shifting from Yorkie to Great Dane and their limitless potential when they bond with the right human partner.

Throughout my life, I’ve surrounded myself with dogs- most were rescues that never belonged to me. I live for the Cinderella stories of dogs going from rags to riches. It lifts my heart each time a rescue dog is embraced by a caring new owner. Progress reports through the years keep this connection alive. We become extended family. Conversations of the human-dog bond during Westminster Week got me thinking of tender dog moments I’ve witnessed. Most, but not all, occurred with my own dogs or other Afghans. Here are a few:

Scarlett the Afghan Hound at Meet the Breeds Scarlett the Afghan Hound at Meet the Breeds *Meet the Breeds: Since 2015, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has joined forces with Westminster (WKC) Agility and co-host Meet & Compete. WKC holds their Agility tournament in Pier 94 while the AKC uses both Pier 92 & 94 for Meet the Breed booths to introduce the range of “dogdom” to the public. The double event is the Saturday before the conformation (breed judging )WKC show on Monday and Tuesday, culminating in Best In Show at Madison Square Garden.

Henry the three-legged Coonhound and his special friend Henry the three-legged Coonhound and his special friend Saturday, three Afghan Hounds shared the limelight at our breed booth during Meet the Breeds. “Scarlett” from Montauk is also entered in the breed ring Monday. Her long, blond ear fringes were banded with rubber bands to protect them. They look like braids. Her Rapunzel hair, bathed in Pantene (not divulging the rest of her beauty secrets) dazzled many admirers. Most had never touched an Afghan Hound before.

When a blind man pet her, I asked if I could help him feel her true ears, and then took his hand to trace inside where the ear flap skin ended; then brought his fingers down the 12 inches of banded ear fringes. He and his companion beamed.

The moment reminded me of another Afghan encounter years ago. My Afghan Trevor was born at Grandeur in Mill Neck in the 1980s. His kennel had stained glass windows, oil paintings and a spiral staircase. At that time, his father was the top Afghan ever, soon to be upstaged by his daughter, Trevor’s half sister. From the moment Trevor was born, he was conditioned to be a show dog. You could hold his leash with your fingertips because he walked perfectly. Trevor was given to me at 16 months because his bite was not perfect for showing. He was a precious gift.

Trevor and Alan, my black Afghan Hound “brothers,” were therapy dogs for Bideawee. One day Trevor and I visited the Rosemary Kennedy School in Wantagh. We were in a huge round room when a blind boy asked if he could walk Trevor. While I acted as guide, the child took the leash and began running around the ring as if he were showing Trevor. They gaited beautifully as a team. Trevor could show off what he was born and conditioned to do best. My sweet Afghan show dog wannabe became the blind boy’s champion that day.

More therapy dogs: Alan also had his shining moment as a therapy dog. He often heard nursing home residents remark their husband or son was named “Alan.” He had been a stray from Oyster Bay Shelter found on the Southern State Parkway. His photo was featured on the pet show on News 12. We knew he was from either Russia or Poland because at the time a Russian man was importing Afghans but then abandoning them. There were at least three discarded.

Alan would stand on my shoulders to show how tall he was. Many folks told him he looked quite a bit like Howard Stern. That bothered Alan. One time we visited a BOCES school for severely disabled children. For part of the day, the staff lifted the students from their wheelchairs and placed them on gym mats to rest. Alan took it upon himself to lie down next to each child so they could stroke his thick coat. He transformed into their giant teddy bear.

Years later when my Afghan Halle visited my mother at her nursing home, she’d stop to see other residents. We entered a room where a frail senior was fast asleep. In an instant, Halle alighted herself on his bed like a butterfly, careful not to touch him. The man opened his eyes and said: “Oh, my. She’s an Afghan Hound.” I was stunned. Halle knew who would appreciate her most.

Henry, Last Hope’s three-legged Redbone Coonhound, rescued in Kentucky after being hit by a car, spent months visiting my father’s nursing home with his adoptive mom Caryn. He had a special friend...a 107-year-old lady who was an amputee like him. She spoke mostly Italian. Her face would light up when she saw Henry. They shared a common bond. One morning he stood by her bedside until she awoke. It was as if Sleeping Beauty saw Prince Charming.

Sweets were of utmost importance to Henry’s lady friend. If she had a piece of cake, she’d dismiss Henry with a flick of the back of her hand, exactly like my Neapolitan Nana did decades ago when she wanted her grandkids to leave her alone. Henry unearthed a hidden memory, and made me chuckle.

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