2012-02-15 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

In a booming Sinatra voice: “Start spreading the news.” Jin Jin won! Let me repeat. Jin Jin won the New Yorkie Runway Show last Friday night.

This fabulous Afghan Hound featured in “Pets” on 1/18 was selected as the first ever winner in this posh NYC event to benefit Angel On A Leash, Westminster Kennel Club’s therapy dog program. Thank you to everyone who voted for our beautiful girl! Jin Jin is the quintessential triple-talented therapy dog who visits with homebound elderly, rehabilitation patients as well as struggling young readers.

Jin Jin is a rescue besides being an accomplished therapy dog. The Afghan Hound world is close knit. Jin Jin belongs to my friend Annette Smith in Toms River who also has my Edgar Afghan Poe’s sister, Rebecca. Edgar and Rebecca are part of a seizure of 67 Afghans from a New Mexico hoarder. Annette and her husband Rick recently fostered another Afghan surrendered to me. This sweet male was bedazzled by his lovely foster sister, but moved onto his forever home in Pennsylvania before Jin Jin became a runway model. He has no idea how intense a campaign we waged to gather votes for the object of his admiration.

Jin Jin takes a victory stroll down the runway. Jin Jin takes a victory stroll down the runway. The New Yorkie Runway competition was fierce. After 100+ dogs auditioned in January, the judges selected 10 finalists. Several were semi-professional, appearing in plays or trained dog acts. During the audition, Jin Jin pranced in her custom fitted pink dress while Annette displayed a photo of Jin Jin in her NASCAR costume which she had worn in a local fashion show to raise funds for Canine Caregivers, the NJ organization that arranges her visits. Jin Jin didn’t have a show biz background.

Next, three weeks of online voting ensued. At first Jin Jin had a large lead but then the field narrowed to four contenders with percentages staying close while ranking changed daily. The winner would be determined by votes and judges scores, a bit like Dancing with the Stars. One handsome Boxer finalist named Mattingly was gaining Yankee momentum. We knew we had to reach out to get more votes, but we weren’t techno-whizzes. Each person could only vote once per computer.

After writing the “Pets” column, I contacted all the Afghan Hound forums and Facebook groups, every long lost relative and each canine connection including clubs and rescues. Afghan Rescue volunteers were blanketing spots like Philadelphia, Boston and the Stony Brook University Feral Cat Network. Even the West Virginia shelter transport network put out a blast for Jin Jin. She got votes from all over the US, Europe and even one from Bahrain. Because Jin Jin worked with elementary age readers, two of my former principals sent the word out to their faculty and students.

I created a “Vote for Jin Jin” Facebook page but didn’t know how to promote it. I tried to get her story on NASCAR sites because we knew that was a ballot goldmine but my posts never “stuck” there. We sang Jin Jin’s praises everywhere we went. Yes, even at the Westminster Kennel Club press conference before the Super Bowl.

Campaign headquarters- “Jin Jin Jersey”- had the support of Canine Caregivers, her agility school, animal hospitals and local dog-related businesses. We contacted the Toms River newspapers. Annette made flyers with tear-off strips. Then Annette had an ingenious publicity plan for the last week of voting.

Annette decided to put Jin Jin in her audition dress and stand outside the Today Show with a sign. Only problem is that Rockefeller Plaza is private property and no dogs are allowed there. As she was leaving, a policeman approached suggesting that she go to Good Morning America. No one would chase Jin Jin there. The GMA producer came out to explain that signs couldn’t be that specific. He handed her a piece of oaktag and suggested she write: “Jin Jin Loves Sam.”

Moments later Sam Champion took down the rope. He pet Jin Jin and spoke to Annette during his weather forecast. Annette mentioned that Jin Jin was in a benefit for Angel On A Leash. Many folks told us that they saw Jin Jin on TV. Later on Sam Champion Tweeted about Jin Jin and entered her visit for Angel on his Facebook page. Jin Jin got over 250 “likes.” America had spoken.

The winner would be announced at the Feb. 10 fashion show. The incredible event held at the New Yorker Hotel is the brainchild of pet fashion designer Elly McGuire who emceed with David Frei, the voice of Westminster and founder of Angel On A Leash. Meteorologist Ron Trotta and Schmitty the Weather Dog hosted. The Big Apple theme was ubiquitous. A checkered taxicab covered in cupcakes parked at the side of the runway. NYC opera tenor Frank Basile sang the national anthem. Miss USA escorted the first pup. The rest of the human models were from the entertainment field, corporate sponsors or Angel On A Leash. A Metrocard quilted vest bedecked a Poodle; a Central Park Conservancy bodysuit adorned a Golden Retriever; while a T-shirt announced a Maltese was “Co-op Board Approved.” As a grand finale, Publishers Clearing House, balloons and all, presented Angel On A Leash with a “big check” for $10,000.

Only one dog got to strut the catwalk twice. And that would be our glorious Afghan, Jin Jin. She took a victory jaunt in her satin audition dress, and then later in a daisy ensemble that New Yorkie Fashions created just for her. Saturday morning she appeared on Channel 4 as part of a NY Fashion Week recap. Seems Jin Jin turned up on the Today Show after all.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: It is raining Yorkies at the shelter. Three, actually one is a Silky, came in last week, and the previous week I took another to Last Hope. The Silky Terrier #12-96 pictured here was found in south Amityville. The Good Samaritan who found him gave him a bath before turning him into the shelter. Recognize this cutie? Meanwhile “Tobey” is a pup, less than a year old. He looks like a leggy Shiba Inu. He is a sweet boy but needs a home without cats.

Male: Yorkie #12-94; black Lab pup #12-84 found at Belmont Lake; Samoyed; “Oscar” #12-83-Shihtzu.

Female: “Delilah”- singing American Bulldog (hear her on Friends of Babylon Animal Shelter Facebook page); “Hope”-Shepherd mix.

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