2011-12-14 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“My best leading men have been dogs and horses.” -Dame Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

The late movie icon’s life was filled with glamour, husbands, philanthropy and jewelry, but she was also passionate about her beloved pets, especially her dogs. This week, Christie’s in NYC will auction off Taylor’s fabulous jewelry and fashion collection; and by the time you read this, the Richard Burton 33.19 carat Krupp diamond ring will belong to someone else, as will a silk sequined cat jacket plus a gold and diamond engraved dog brooch, unless I win the lottery tout de suite. (Not telling, if I am really bidding.)

As a child star in the 1940s, Taylor graced the screen in National Velvet, Lassie Come Home, and The Courage of Lassie. She began riding at age three, and a fall during the filming of National Velvet began back troubles that plagued her for the rest of her life. When the movie was complete, King Charles, grandson of Man O’War and equine star of National Velvet was given to Taylor. She kept the horse (who loved her and nipped everyone else) the rest of his life.

The Burtons with their Pekes. The Burtons with their Pekes. On her 60th birthday Taylor received a Collie puppy that was a great grandchild, seven generations back, of Pal, the original Lassie. When Taylor divorced her eighth and last husband, construction worker, Larry Fortensky, Taylor successfully sued for custody of this contested Collie.

Born in London in 1932 to American parents, Taylor grew up with lots of dogs including a Golden Retriever, Springer Spaniel and several Cockers. By the 1950s, the superstar surrounded herself with smaller dogs, including many of the fashionable Hollywood breeds of the time, such as Yorkies, Shihtzus and Poodles. Most of her pups enjoyed a longer tenure than her husbands. In 1950 Liz and Nicky Hilton returned from their Paris honeymoon aboard the Queen Elizabeth with Banco a Miniature Poodle. Hilton was only around for five more months, while Banco lasted four more marriages

The Pekingese was a particular favorite of Miss Taylor despite a near mishap. La Peregrina is one of the most famous pearls in the world, discovered by a slave in the 1500s, cherished by Spanish royalty, and then owned by the Bonaparte family in the 1800s until it adorned Taylor’s neck in 1969. According to an account in Taylor’s 2003 book, My Love Affair with Jewelry, shortly after Taylor received the 50 carat pearl from Burton, it fell off the necklace in their suite at Caesar’s Palace. She retraced her steps barefoot on the carpet without disturbing Burton until she spied one of her Pekes chewing a bone. She then realized they didn’t give their pups bones. The Peke was noshing on La Pergrina which Taylor gently retrieved from inside the pup’s mouth- unscratched. She waited a week before telling Burton the dog almost swallowed his Valentine’s gift.

In the 1970s, Taylor and Burton were supposed to be making a movie together in London, but there would be a problem taking their Pekingeses because of England’s six month quarantine. The couple circumvented this regulation in a creative way. They rented a yacht, anchored on the Thames. The dogs stayed on the boat with them the entire time and never set foot on British soil. We must assume that the Burtons could afford large quantities of wee wee pads.

The Pekes seemed to listen to Taylor while ignoring Burton, which annoyed him because he loved the dogs too. One day he showed up with a Peke named E’en So. The dog was blind in one eye and Burton claimed to have rescued him. This pet puzzled Taylor because he paid rapt attention to Burton but rarely responded to her until Burton confessed his secret. He had purchased the dog fully trained in Welsh commands.

Later on, Taylor discovered Malteses. Probably her most beloved dog was her Maltese Sugar who was Taylor’s constant companion even on perfume press tours and the Larry King Show. “I’ve never loved a dog like this in my life,” said the actress and activist in 2004. “It’s amazing. Sometimes I think there’s a person in there. There’s something to say for this kind of love—it’s unconditional.” When Christopher Radko designed a Christmas ornament in Sugar’s likeness, the proceeds from its sale went to AIDS charities.

Sugar’s descendant and successor was Daisy. When Taylor was in the hospital in 2009, she asked her business partner, the model Kathy Ireland, to sneak Daisy by hospital security. Of course, Ireland complied. During many periods of convalescence, Taylor’s dogs were nestled beside her, and she always drew comfort from their presence. Her dogs were as precious as her gems.

The exhibit of The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor at Christie’s in Rockefeller Plaza is breathtaking. These are America’s crown jewels. Many pieces were gifts from Richard Burton, Michael Jackson and Malcolm Forbes. The first display is Taylor’s incredible wardrobe, and among the treasures is a quilted silk and sequin cat jacket by Michael Vollbracht from the 1980s. The tiny gold dog brooch is part of the “inexpensive” selection offered to the public. The dog is engraved “4 FACE LOVE, Eddie ‘89”. Could this be from

Eddie Fisher? So far the online bid is at $1600, and it ain’t over yet.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St., W. Babylon: Of course, there is a Peke this week. (That rhymes.) This tri-colored male Pekingese #94606 was found by Deer Park Avenue. Recognize him? Meanwhile “Ty” #94515 is one of three Pomeranians currently at the shelter.

Males: “Frankee” black & white cat; “Marty” brindle Chihuahua mix; “Panda” Pit mix; Boston Terrier.

Females: “Bella” Siamese cat; senior Maltese; “Hope” Shepherd mix; Dobie/Shepherd mix in Cage 46.

Upcoming Events this Sat. 12/17, both on Beltagh Ave in Wantagh: Hempstead Shelter - “Home for the Holidays” free adoptions, free photos with Santa until 4:00. Call 516-785-5220; then the tree lighting ceremony at Last Hope from 4:00 to 7:00, call 631-425-1884.

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