2015-10-21 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“From Rags to Roquefort.” And so begins our Cinderella story with a canine culinary garnish. In September, “Bon Appétit” magazine invited Last Hope to bring shelter dogs to their NYC studio to tape a video of our pups enjoying a three-course gourmet meal prepared by renowned Chef Jean-Georges. Each shelter dog would be dining with a blind date– a celebrity social media dog. Video would promote adopting homeless dogs from shelters. Two Babylon Shelter alumni starred in this production.

Pinch me. Could this taping be real? Turns out it was, and was taking place the morning of the day the Pope would fly to NYC. We were invited to “Bon Appétit” because of a recommendation from the Animal Medical Center (AMC), also in NYC. Last Hope’s “Pammy Sue” was a Kentucky puppy mill Shih Tzu used for breeding, then discarded because of a broken leg. Once at Last Hope, Pammy Sue had orthopedic limb repair in 2014, courtesy of “AMC to the Rescue.” Then, she was adopted by her foster mom, Sue. Recently, Pammy Sue was invited back to the AMC to do a photo shoot which will be used to showcase “AMC to the Rescue,” their pro bono veterinary program.


Chef Jean-Georges with his pup patrons- Marnie, Manny, Ripley and Charlotte Chef Jean-Georges with his pup patrons- Marnie, Manny, Ripley and Charlotte Our chef: Jean- Georges Vongerichten is one of the world’s most famous chefs, and the restaurateur behind many three- and four-star restaurants worldwide. He prepared two different Michelin three-star menus for the blind dates in the video “Doggy Bag,” and later greeted his “patrons” to ask them how they enjoyed their meal, and whether they’d be dining with him again.

Our canine cast: As we viewed the city maps listing where streets would be closed for the Pope’s visit and the UN General Assembly meeting, we also decided which shelter dogs to bring. We feared we’d get into the city but then get stuck there with our selected dog stars because of gridlock and security checks. Pammy Sue and a Bloodhound puppy named “Jelly” were our first choices. An adorable Bloodhound puppy would be so photogenic.


“Ripley”– a dog star is born! “Ripley”– a dog star is born! The day before the taping, “Jelly” felt under the weather. In retrospect, he was too young for a studio taping, and would not have had the self-discipline to sit still long enough to finish the taping. We needed shelter dog understudies. Three small dogs would fit in Sue’s car. There’d be a film extra in case one of the dogs refused to cooperate on stage. We decided to substitute “Ripley,” an eight-year-old Cockapoo who’d been surrendered at Babylon Shelter. His distraught owner had come upon hard times and was forced to give him up. “Ripley” liked other dogs. He was obedient and bubbly. Both Pammy Sue and Ripley rode in dog car seats, while my “Charlotte,” English Toy Spaniel mix from a Lindenhurst hoarder house and from Babylon Shelter Class of 2003, sat on my lap. Though petite, she is quite a Chow Hound.

We left at the crack of dawn. Despite terrible traffic, we arrived at the Broadway address, right across the street from the Freedom Tower, in time. It seemed so profound, knowing Pope Francis would be visiting this solemn spot the next morning.

The studio: The dogs sat at a lovely table covered with “Lady & the Tramp”-trademark red and white check gingham. Their candles were lit (yes, really!), and their wine poured by the debonair French waiter who would then serve each course. Their waiter was actually Philippe Vongerichten, director of operations at Jean-Georges. Ripley rehearsed first. He did well but then tried to climb over the table when he saw us in the audience. Thankfully, the candles weren’t lit or the wine poured yet. Trainer Adam Romsdahl worked on Ripley’s sit/stays in the lobby while Charlotte’s video was filmed. The result was a flawless performance later by our Mr. Ripley.

The blind dates: Charlotte’s dinner date was Manny the Frenchie, a four-year-old French Bulldog with 1.3 million ‘Likes’ on Facebook. He uses his fame to sell his products and to give back through charity. Recently, his online supporters were able to rescue 22 out of 23 Frenchies being sold at a puppy mill auction. Manny flew in from Chicago with his owners to participate in filming “Doggy Bag” and to date my dog.

There was no way Charlotte would stay seated if I weren’t in sight, so I became the pup puppeteer, lying down on the floor behind her chair and discreetly holding her leash. Charlotte and Manny were served: Gruyere omelet with caviar, followed by a main course of crackling beef short rib and potato puree with maple glazed bacon over sweet potato for dessert. Do you know how tempted I was to devour the piece of Charlotte’s short rib that fell on the floor where I was hiding? This video hasn’t aired online yet.

Ripley had the pleasure of Marnie the dog’s company. In 2012, Marnie was rescued from a CT shelter when she was a matted Shih Tzu about 10 with a head tilt. After 14 teeth were extracted, her tongue always hung out of her mouth. She is the most popular senior dog on Instagram with 1.8 million followers. The duo wolfed down roasted marrow bone with salmon roe and brioche croutons, then orecchiette and meatballs with fresh ricotta. Their waiter offered them a glass of water before enjoying a peanut butter ice cream sundae for dessert. To see Ripley’s video, go to: http://www.bonappetit.com/people/chefs/article/jean-georges-vongerichten....

By the way, Ripley was adopted by a Last Hope volunteer later that day.

The secret: With all due respect to Jean-Georges and “Bon Appétit,” I know the secret to get hesitant dogs to perform on cue. During the “Muttcracker” at the Birmingham Ballet each year, there’s a scene graced by rescued Afghan Hounds. One Afghan is supposed to stand on his hind legs to dance with Drosselmeyer. The audience has no idea a Beggin’ Strip is taped to each of the wizard’s shoulders.

I brought a bag. Each time a “Doggy Bag” dog was reluctant to try a new course; the producer sprinkled a Beggin’ Strip garnish on the masterpiece meal. The secret worked like a charm.

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