2017-12-21 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

So you think your dog can dance? Our Afghan Hound ballerinas certainly can!

The Muttcracker 2017- Birmingham or Bust! This year’s 2,000-mile road trip from NJ and NY to Alabama and back so our Afghan Hounds-Jasmine and Edgar Afghan Poe- could perform again in the Birmingham Ballet’s dog/human Christmas spectacular was supposed to be our “Swan Song” (in keeping with the Tchaikovsky theme). Our dog duo, actually more than half of the Afghan troupe are seniors with two 13-year-olds who are veterans of every Muttcracker, three 10-year-olds and a nine-yearold rescue rookie.

But this year after such a magnificent spectacle on stage; the first-ever sold-out crowd (1,200 seats) in over two decades of Birmingham Ballet Nutcrackers; such a tight bond between the Muttcracker Moms; staff and friends that treat us like treasured family; hints of interest from “America’s Got Talent”, Hallmark Channel and “AKC Family Dog” magazine, it’s extremely hard to hang up our dogs’ dancing shoes. The week my friend Annette, our dogs and I spend together as members of the canine cast is the best part of our Christmas. The show must go on- God willing.

Tomi Girl, Sunset and Edgar wait back stage. Tomi Girl, Sunset and Edgar wait back stage. The Muttcracker has evolved over the last six years. Martha Powell, national chair for Afghan Hound Club of America Rescue lives in Alabama. “A few Afghans should walk across the stage in “The Nutcracker,”” Martha suggested to her Zumba instructor who’s a veteran ballet teacher and mother of Cindy Free, founder and artistic director of the Birmingham Ballet. Mom accompanied by a Welsh Corgi plays the Grandmother each year.

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, Minnie Mouse bow and metronome tail dances in his paw prints. Tomi-Girl a stunning rescue and the late Jagger, a retired champion completed the first cast. Last year Act II “Angel Dance” began with seven Afghans in gossamer wings, their heavenly coats flowing, breezing across the stage led by teenage Sprites. This year nine Afghans graced the stage.

Rehearsal of the Muttcracker “Afghan Angel” scene Rehearsal of the Muttcracker “Afghan Angel” scene Cindy has woven over 30 dogs dressed in costume, about half rescues, into the classic ballet. They sweeten the familiar music, demonstrate the diversity of breeds and celebrate the bond we have with our dogs as they dance alongside students and professionals. Paw missteps bring chuckles from the audience which the dogs interpret as admiration.

Edgar relaxes at his Borzoi buddies’ pool after the ballet Edgar relaxes at his Borzoi buddies’ pool after the ballet This year the curtain opened to a harlequin Great Dane wearing red booties. Later Duke a black Dane tussled with the Wizard and then sat on a bench like a human spectator. Borzoi sisters have different parts. Pure white Anna joined the ivory Shepherd, American Eskimo Dog and Pom puppy in the snow scene, while Nyusha adds ambience as an ancient statue (as long as she’s fed chicken strips) when the Arabian duo dances.

Among the many dog stars- Poodles pirouette; a Chihuahua jumps in and out of a Chinese basin (sometimes) ; a Papillon uses the bakers’ legs as weave poles; a Miniature American Shepherd leap frogs over dancers ; a Havanese gives high fives and a Border Collie does a top notch free-style routine with her owner. Some are certified therapy dogs; many are willing novices. Dog trainer Anne-Marie Mitchell dressed in costumes to match each scene adds her magic touch. She entices reluctant dogs across the stage. The Sugar Plum Fairy Sheltie spinning in her tutu was a sweet finale.

The Afghan Nine- Afghans from Alabama, Georgia, Nashville and our NJ/NY contingent converged on the ballet. Rehearsals started about six weeks ago but our dogs only attend the last two. Five Hounds were rescues-Sleet, Tomi-Girl, Jasmine, Edgar and a newbie-Sunset. Martha adopted him several months ago. His Georgia owner died and left seven loved and well-cared for Afghans which distant family neglected for months. The dogs were emaciated; their coats covered with bits of wire screen when rescued. A local Greyhound group helped in the transport and boarding of the dogs while Martha and other Afghan rescue volunteers screened applicants.

Sunset (age nine, we think) was the only dog left when he joined Martha’s trio of female senior citizen Afghans. He is adorable in a Disney way with eyes and lashes like a giraffe, plus a heart of gold. He leans against admirers and demands petting. Only problem- Sunset was terrified of the angel dancer soaring above him on the wire. He pulled his Sprite handler off the stage, and had to be coaxed back. Thankfully, Sunset dragged her behind the bench during the sold-out show.

Jasmine is Edgar’s role model and security blanket. They curl up together on the back seat of the van, and he follows her lead. Jasmine is a seasoned pro. This was her third Muttcracker; his second. Jasmine is a therapy dog in library programs and a visitor to a 98- year -old lady. She’s done promos including a spot on the “Today” show when the film “The Secret of Pets” opened. Edgar’s claim to fame was his purple topknot, courtesy of his groomer Debbie. His coif created quite a stir throughout the trip.

Grace an enthusiastic Afghan puppy was also a rookie. She’s an oyster brindle with darker legs that look like UGGs™ as she kangaroo-bounced in the Afghan angel procession. She arrived with the show champions-Stryker, Tiki and Bailey. When the foursome swash-buckled down the hall in their fancy snoods, boots and hair clips, you felt you were witnessing the Sharks busting on the scene in “West Side Story”.

Pup Perks- Dogs and owners stand with the dancers during the curtain call. Jasmine and Edgar love staying in hotels especially the Westin Birmingham. Aunt Pamela, the concierge, once owned an Afghan. It’s a mutual admiration society. She greets them with treats, provides comfy dog beds and spoils them with “doggie bag” room service each night. Fajita chicken and Swedish meatballs are rinsed so not too spicy for her favorite dogs.

Saturday after the show, Aunt Colleen, Borzoi stage Mom, invited us to her lovely home and canine paradise. Our dogs were allowed to wander her incredible eight-acre fenced property, with lots of hills, landings and a lovely pool. They rested in the Borzoi bedroom and watched closed circuit dog TV with Nyusha and Anna. Tomorrow we return to our routine and reality... until Muttcracker 2018, hopefully.

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