Dogs on the catwalk

Pet owners dressed their furry friends in jackets, jumpsuits and even skirts in a recent 'fashion' show in Kfar Saba.

Forget supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Giselle Bündchen and Cindy Crawford. Last week, a new set of legs graced the catwalk in a fashion parade at Kfar Saba's Kenyon Arim shopping center. Each of the models was short and hairy. But they still managed to turn heads. Perhaps because of the innovative fashion they were showing off; perhaps because of their charm; perhaps because they were dogs - dogs in jackets, jumpsuits and even in skirts. The parade was part of a dog-product expo promoting the merchandise of the mall's pet store, Animal. But it was clear that more than the lure of profits motivated the event's organizers. Next to tables displaying animal beds, clothes and food for dogs from loving homes, stood a cage of dogs provided by the Kalbia Orah home for strays. Visitors had an opportunity to adopt a homeless pet that would otherwise be put to sleep. "Today isn't just about coming and buying. We arranged this event [so that] people would be aware [of the problem of abandoned animals] and take responsibility for dogs and all animals," Kenyon Arim's marketing manager Adi Dvir said. The expo also featured guest speakers Dr. Sinai Davrat, a veterinarian, and dog trainer Yossi Mizrahi. One of the key messages Mizrahi wanted to pass on was the importance of training dogs not to eat off the ground. "When I was in the canine unit in the army, we worked with Beit Dagan, the largest dog hospital in Israel. Most of the dogs that arrived there were sick [and died] because they ate off the ground," Mizrahi told the crowd. Dogs who had ingested garbage, rat poison or other dogs' excrement often died. "It's a disaster," he said, "because you can spend a lot of money on a dog teaching him, training him and feeding him. And in the end you just take your dog for a walk, he eats something and dies," he warned. The crowd flocked around Mizrahi after his address, bombarding the new pet care guru with questions about their own canine charges. He answered each one, while in the background dogs ran in all directions and shoppers hunted for bargains. One toddler chased her ginger-haired cocker spaniel as he scrambled around the courtyard, slipping on the tiles. Next to her, a Boston terrier was being squeezed into a sweater and a multi-colored Maltese Shih Tzu was having her hair combed and tied with a purple bow. When asked for his opinion on whether it was ethical to send dogs strutting down a runway, Davrat said that while some people might claim that the fashion show was an "artificial [environment for] animals that should be acting and behaving normally," the objectors had to realize that these animals had been "pre-selected to be different to what they were in nature." According to Davrat, the model dogs didn't live in nature, and wouldn't cope if given a chance to do so. "If they have short hair and live in cold areas, it makes sense to put coats on them," he said. Davrat compared dog clothes to the jackets worn by horses and working dogs that pull sleds through snow, whose purpose is to keep the animals warm. "So it's a very functional item if you use it properly," he said "and the nicer they are, the more aesthetically pleasing [the effect] is," he added. But a lot of pet owners don't dress their dogs to keep them warm - they dress them to show them off. Dog breeder Linn Pitelis says she never dresses her dogs in clothes. "It's like dressing your kids. Do you put them in a training suit because it's comfortable or do you put them in a frilly dress to show them off? Unless of course it's a small dog that needs a coat… I think it's just a wow factor, to get attention," she said. Davrat noted that it is important for dog owners to select outfits that do not restrict the animals' movement. If the design is comfortable, the clothes shouldn't bother them, he said. When deciding whether or not to dress a dog, owners should consider the breed and the climate in which it lives. It would be wrong to dress a longhaired dog during the summer, he said. After the dogs were fitted with outfits and many of them received complimentary haircuts, the parade began. As each pet made its way down the catwalk, children watching stretched over the barriers, reaching out to touch the dog models like teenagers at a Justin Timberlake concert. Sushi, an eight-year-old pug, sported a floral dress and matching Bo-Peep cap, which her owner had sewn for her. But the judges seemed to prefer Sammy, a toy poodle, whose bright blue silky jumpsuit could have caused him to be mistaken for a toy mascot. Sammy won first prize: over NIS 250 worth of toys, dog biscuits and a shirt. Kenyon Arim showed that glamor and fame are not necessarily the keys to a successful fashion show. Forget Schiffer, Bündchen and Crawford. The Kfar Saba dogs gave those cat-walkers a run for their money.