Those who make it their business to keep track of such things might argue that it happened ages ago, but Capitol Hill really went to the dogs yesterday.
"I guess this confirms it," said Secretary of Agriculture John Block, leaning down to pet his part-Labrador retriever, Shadow.
The canine member of the Block family was one of about 90 participants in the first annual Capital Canine Follies, a fundraiser to benefit the Capital Children's Museum, held on the museum's Capitol Hill grounds. Shadow, who was bedecked with a red, white and blue ribbon and had her nails painted for the occasion, was joined by such political luminaries as Leader Dole, Hero Brzezinski and Junket Aspin. Also in attendance were Jasper and Muffin Meese, who, along with no-show First Dog Lucky Reagan, were cochairs of the event.
"I really wanted to spoof the whole idea of the Washington fundraiser," said Connie Coopersmith, cochair of the event's "human" committee. "So we created patrons and special committees, with a chairdog for each committee. The sense of humor of everyone has been incredible. We got a regret letter from Pippa Mathias explaining why she couldn't come that actually had her pawprint on it."
"I thought they were kidding when they asked me to come show my dog," said former Washington Redskin Brig Owens, who was busy bribing Zachary, his golden retriever, in a futile effort to keep him calm. "He's never been around this many dogs before."
"I thought the whole idea was hysterical," said ABC anchor Kathleen Sullivan, who was making her dog-show debut with Princess Adobe, a 5 1/2-month-old half Akita, half German shepherd. "What I really wanted to see is how many of these people would look like their dogs." And did they? "Sure. Just look over there at CBS reporter Bob Schieffer's dog. It's solid and good-looking. Just what you'd expect."
Although it was billed as a dog show, and the participants were separated into classes ("Dog-eat-dog" for the politicians, "Hotdoggers" for the athletes and "Media Hounds" for the press, among others), there were no overall winners and every participant won a prize.
"It's a real democratic-type program," joked Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), whose schnauzer fittingly won the "Fearless Leader" award. "Something for everyone."
And while the dogs ranged from the purebred pedigree type to the mixed-breed mutts, so were the judges a varied lot. They ranged from 8-year-old Soleil Moon Frye, star of NBC's "Punky Brewster," to 92-year-old Helen Cronkite, Walter's mother.
Since every dog was a winner, the job of the judges was to come up with appropriate awards. In charge of the task was White House press secretary James Brady, who, along with some celebrity help, handed down such monikers as "dog you'd most like to be with in Alaska," which went to Rep. Pat Schroeder's (D-Colo.) large, furry dog, Wolfie.
Although the judges' briefing (performed by officials from Kal Kan, the dog-food company that underwrote the event) was closed to the press, judge (and Secretary of Health and Human Services) Margaret Heckler said she was told "that I'd have secretarial discretion" in making the awards.
According to organizers, of the 125 dogs invited, more than 90 accepted, although one unidentified cabinet member had to be reassured that his mixed-breed wouldn't be ridiculed because it wasn't a real show dog.
In fact, more than a few of the participants were of undetermined pedigrees, having either shown up on their owners' doorsteps or been adopted from animal shelters. "When I asked Jim Schroeder, Pat's husband how old the dog was, he said either 4 or 5," emcee Mark Shields told the audience. "I guess all politicians from Colorado have trouble telling their age."
Several hundred spectators paid $10 a head to rub noses with the likes of star canine model Countess Chloe Wachtmeister, a 2 1/2-year-old Lhasa apso (who's posed for top fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo) owned by Swedish Ambassador Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister, and Tagger Kirk, a mixed-breed belonging to Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk (and representing the party's canine caucus, he admitted). It was a light-hearted afternoon of touring the museum and meeting celebrities from ABC soap stars Darnell Williams and Gloria DeHaven to Fred the cockatoo from "Baretta" and Bandit the dog from "Little House on the Prairie."
But in the holding area things were more serious. "I think I'm more nervous than she is," said Sullivan, struggling to hang on to Princess Adobe. "But you can't get them out in front of the cameras too soon."
Of course, even in the dog world politics makes for strange bedfellows. For example, Ursula Meese pointed out that it was too bad Jasper and Muffin would have to compete against Hero Brzezinski, since "they're our neighbors, and the dogs play together every day." And Penny Durenberger, wife of Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), made it a point to tell everyone that Heidi, her schnauzer, had been on a diet for two weeks in anticipation of meeting fellow schnauzer Leader Dole.
Although organizers admitted it was unlikely that the follies would turn a profit for the museum (no figure was disclosed), they did say they were pleased with the response and turnout and hoped that it would become an annual event. Said cochair Joel Poretsky with a straight face, "I guess you'd have to call it a howling success."