By Sandy Robins
updated 6:54 a.m. PT, Thurs., Feb. 15, 2007
Meet James, America’s newest celebrity, who won Best in Show on the green carpet at the Westminster Dog Show on Tuesday night.
Right after his big win, with the applause still ringing in his long ears, he went back to his hotel to find dog lovers celebrating his success. Naturally, he was invited to stay and have a drink of water, which he did, then duly flopped down, exhausted by all the excitement.
With his fame a mere seven hours old, the handsome springer spaniel already has learned that stardom is synonymous with lack of sleep. James had hardly put his head on his pet bed when it was time to get up and get ready for his first major media tour, visiting all the major TV studios in New York City.
He appeared on “Today,” “The Early Show” and “Good Morning America.” At each studio he was bright-eyed and waggy-tailed, but the moment the cameras focused on handler Kellie FitzGerald, he flopped down and snoozed.
However, there was more to come. The main event on James’ agenda was lunch at New York’s famous Sardi’s restaurant, where he was guest of honor.
“Lunch at Sardi’s with the best in show winner is a highlight on the calendar of the Dog Fanciers Club of America,” said Dr Joel Gavriele-Gold, vice president of the club. “We have been doing it for the past 40 years. The main purpose of this organization is to disseminate new knowledge about dogs and provide a forum for serious dog owners. The best in show winner is a very special dog, and we are honored to have it attend. It’s an event that everyone looks forward to from one year to the next.”
Despite the snow that blanketed New York, invited guests started arriving as early as 10:30 a.m. to ensure they would not miss a whisker of the event. Patiently they stood around sipping Bloody Marys and making small talk while TV producers set up shop to do a live satellite feed to news stations around the country and members of the puppurazzi focusing in anticipation.
Backstage, the restaurant’s maitre d’, Agron Metis, was checking that there was a huge bowl of water in place and that chef Patrick Pinot was preparing lunch for James.
“We always serve filet mignon on a silver platter. However, the portion varies according to the size of the winner,” Metis said.
Asked if any of the past doggy guests was a favorite, Metis diplomatically pronounced them all special and said every past luncheon was a highlight in his career.
“I love dogs, and they always rank amongst our best guests,” Metis said. “They are always so beautifully behaved and never mess.”
James made a quiet entrance and went straight to work with FitzGerald and David Frei, the communications director of the Westminster Kennel Club. As Frei told America what wonderful, high-energy dogs springer spaniels are, James flopped down again, too tired to care about his breed traits.
With all interest focused in the front of the restaurant, I sneaked into the kitchen to check on his lunch. Pinot had the silver platter polished and waiting for the thickest, juiciest filet steak to be trimmed of fat for a very deserving diner.
It was a typical lunch: lots of speeches and clapping, with people patting one another on the back. Finally, the waiters appeared in droves to serve a choice of prime rib or salmon, and it was amusing to watch guests nibble on their food and call for doggy bags to take slices of prime rib for special dogs waiting at home.
James finally got his steak, too. He seemed to enjoy it, but he was truly dog-tired. The limo ride back to his hotel did not come a moment too soon.
On the first day of his reign as Westminster’s spokesdog for the year, James had been given just a taste of things to come. However, once he has had some rest and the excitement dies down, he is going to be a wonderful ambassador for his breed.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning dog writer. Her work appears regularly on MSNBC.com and MSN.com and in various national publications.
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