An After Hours Special: Cuisine and Couture Go to the Dogs (And So Does a Circle Line Cruise

The Circle Line vessel that left Manhattan's Pier 83 at noon September 10, 2006 may have looked like an ordinary tour boat, but for this trip, at least, it was the Good Ship Lollipup. New York City's first canine cruise set sail with a sell-out crowd of 422 humans and 250 small dogs (under 20 pounds), from Yorkies and chihuahuas to mini-pins and dachshunds to indeterminate four-legged balls of fluff.

 

And oh, were they dressed for the outing.

They wore sailor suits and pirate garb, sports shirts in pastel stripes or emblazoned with machine-embroidered marine animals, ruffled frocks, camouflage-patterned halters, deflated water wings, sweaters, sunglasses and even pearls.

They were on leashes, in human arms and in strollers, uniformly under control and, except for occasional dachshund-led outbursts, remarkably yap-free.



The masterminds of the event were Rece Reid, Tasasha Chavis, Maximus and Peanut, the organizers and host dogs of the NYC Yorkie Playgroup. Yes: playgroup. Manhattan has a burgeoning community of dog-and-owner social clubs, which offer activities on a frequency that rivals a soccer mom's schedule. Many of these clubs, including the Yorkie Playgroup, are part of Meetup, a four-year-old clearinghouse of interest-based social groups, which has more than 3,500 areas of interest ("topic," in Meetup-speak) and two million members around the world.

The author's nephdog and sister


A number of the local small dog Meetups made up the bulk of the passenger list for this cruise.

(Journalism ethics compel me to disclose that I am related to two of the participants, my sister Karen and her chihuahua Eli, who was one of the fashion models.)

Photo credit: Kathy Biehl



For the three-hour tour (yes, that was the length, although no one sang about it) down the Hudson and back, cruisers made the rounds of vendors' tables on the lower and upper decks, renamed "doggie dens" for the day. Portraits were on offer from several galleries (Fetching Dog Photos, Fetching Portraits and Feron Portraits, which makes digitized Warholesque treatments of pooch photos). Tables overflowed with flyers (for boutiques, for pooch periodicals, for pet spas, for dog training), with freebies (CDs of Dog Talk radio show) and with dog-themed and -purposed goodie bags for the raffle, which benefited the no-kill shelter Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition.

Ongoing entertainment was provided by Jilli Dog, a teacup Yorkshire terrier with an endearingly sweet manner and bag of tricks that was full of surprises. She's a rescue success story, who has evolved from a stray in bad shape into a certified therapy dog and crackerjack card handler. Owner/trainer Rick Caran coached visitors one at a time in the cues for Jilli's tricks, so that each person could experience the delight of faking a sneeze, say, and watching a tiny furry being bolt to the tissue box, pull out a tissue and deliver it.

Jilli Dog plays poker with owner Rick Caran

Her specialty she performed only with Caran (although she'll do with Rachael Ray on TV this fall): playing poker. Caran does the dealing, but Jilli is perfectly capable of playing her cards - and placing her bets. (She won the hand I saw.) See for yourself in her online video.

Photo credit: Frank M. Bland


Cuisine

If you were hungry, a dog was the thing to be. Humans had to purchase their own snacks downstairs (was it a coincidence that there were no sandwiches at the concession stand, only hot dogs?), but dogs had a wealth of gourmet nibbles, starting with treats in the entryway from Honeybark Bakery.

Pupcake Studio was handing out anchor-shaped treats and slices of an artfully shipshaped cake, both of which looked enticing to the human eye. To our taste buds, they would have been a shock, though, because the baking ingredients we associate with sweets are, in this case, flavored with chicken broth. (Gluten-free versions are planned for next year.)

Photo credit: Frank M. Bland


Owner Ada Nieves, who has a background making cakes for humans, developed pupcakes because of her trio of Chihuahuas, who are also the inspiration (not to mention frequent models) for Pupcake Studio's made-to-order gowns and tuxedos. Cinnabon stayed home for the cruise, but both Tequila and Vanilla were on board, he in a tiny white hat and she in her customary pearls.

For delayed gratification, Healthy Pet Gourmet was giving out cooler bags with frozen, vacuum packed chicken-and-rice samples of its human-grade dog food. Owner Christie Shaver uses the recipes she makes for her own pets at home, with the same ingredients as she feeds her family. She offers a free pet nutrition consultation and adds two weeks at no charge to the first month's order, to give new customers time to see a significant health change. The delivery area is currently Manhattan, but will expand in January.

There was also, briefly, a treat-eating contest, with golden loving cup trophy awards. Judging was based on how quickly each contestant ate the five treats that had been doled out into the owners' palms. The judge threw down a raised arm to start the contest; by the time his arm returned to its upright position, a pink-clad mini-pin had already won.

Couture

The cruise event that drew the biggest crowd; and the most pupparazzi in this camera-heavy crowd-- was the runway show introducing Puppé Couture's fall collection. Actually, it was not so much a runway as a tabletop, across which the models trotted, led by leashes and treats, to a DJ-driven beat. The show was a crush of arms and cameras and bodies, with the occasional glimpse of a well-dressed canine.

Rocco poses for Puppé Couture designer/owner Shawn Michael

The dozen or so models, which were chosen from the more than 80 that responded to a citywide search, wore expertly designed and crafted outfits from the company's Couture, Punk and Varsity lines.

Photo credit: Kathy Biehl


The new styles included a Eurotrash fringed denim vest, faux track star gear and tailored male dress shirt and tie, which was modeled by the owner's dog and inspiration, Rocco.

Pre-show conversations between designer Shawn Michael and the handlers made for one-of-a-kind eavesdropping, from "Extra-small or small'; to "Do you want her to wear the white collar"?

Comfort

And there was no cause for jokes about the poop deck, thanks to PETáPOTTY, which supplied grass-laden boxes as facilities for canine convenience. Each box contains a concealed watertight pallet and a tray pan that slides out for emptying. It's meant to be watered periodically, to dilute the nitrogen in the urine (which kills grass), and can be hooked up to a septic system. Private owners - PETáPOTTY systems are in 100,000 homes - can use real grass in the box to train a dog, then wean it to synthetic grass. Inventor Brandon Hochman, who was on board in a company logo'd jumpsuit, dreamed up the idea of bringing the back yard indoors when he was a snowboarder and came home from road trips too many times to dogs that had not been happy with their frequency of walking. His bent for ingenuous space usage has carried over into the PETáPOTTY warehouse, the roof of which has been transformed into a pet-friendly nightclub that looks out onto downtown Los Angeles. SkyBark hosts celebrity dog events (such as DVD release parties and fashion shows), with silent auctions and specialty "muttinis" that benefit animal rescue leagues.

All the commotion on board had no effect on the cabin. The cruise returned on schedule, with Ms. Chavis announcing the final raffle awards as the boat slid up to the dock. Look for photos of the cruise at CanineCruise.com.

Copyright 2006 Kathy Biehl. All Rights Reserved.