Woof! For Sanity and Image Befriend a Haute Couture Mutt

For God’s sake, buy yourself a pet. If your building won’t allow dogs, then get a ferret or a gerbil. Anything! Why? The fact is, we pet-owning New Yorkers (e.g., Joan Rivers) are weathering these post-catastrophe days better than you non–pet owners. “My Lulu and Veronica have kept me sane,” raved the evergreen Joan about her Boston Terrier and her Yorkie when I spoke to her recently. “They sleep on my bed and make me feel very MGM, very Andy Hardy.” Ms. Rivers, still wired from another blockbuster QVC appearance, went on: “But most importantly, dogs are not nervous. They never say things like ‘Did you see the papers?’ or ‘Ohhmiygawod! We’re all gonna die!'”

Isaac Mizrahi agrees. I recently spoke to Oxygen’s answer to Dick Cavett between tapings of his new TV chat show. “My dog is sooooo calming! But living with Harry triggered something more major,” purred Mr. Mizrahi conspiratorially. “I now believe in true love-because with Harry, I feel it. Which makes me more confident, because I feel more secure.”

Determined to get things onto a more superficial footing, I asked Mr. Mizrahi if dogs were good P.R.-i.e., do people tend to regard one as a nice person because one owns and adores a dog? Mr. Mizrahi, whose dog is a regular fixture on his chat show, elegantly sidestepped the question and gushed about the upcoming Broadway production of The Women, for which he’s designing the costumes.

Ms. Rivers, on the other hand, embraced my hypothesis enthusiastically. “Yes! Lizzie Grubman, get yourself a canine shield! But choose carefully. Take my Spike, for example,” said Joan, about her recently departed and much loved Yorkie. “He was soooo evil, and he hated everyone! Especially Nordic blondes and children-and especially Nordic blond children. But it was great, because he made me look like a saint. It can work either way. Hitler’s dog,” said Ms. Rivers, referring to Blondie, a German shepherd, “was probably fabulous! I’m sure he would have licked you to death-‘death’ being the operative word.”

My chat with Joan left me chuckling, but also wondering where devotion ends and P.R. begins. What are the ethics that govern pet ownership? Are there any?

There are a growing number of New Yorkers who are not just rehabbing their image with their pooches (Cindy Adams and her Jazzy; me and my Liberace); they are also turning them into cash machines. As we speak, the fabulous Sweetie, Manhattan’s mutt de la mode, is being dragged from one end of the country to the other on a book tour by her savior, writer Mark Welsh. With a relentlessness that has drawn unfavorable comparisons with Brooke and Teri Shields, this promotion-crazed duo will stop at nothing to flog a book. Which is perfectly O.K., since the book in question-Sweetie: From the Gutter to the Runway-is beyond hilarious ( “I never met a man I didn’t lick”) and full of great tips (“Always moisturize your neck-one day it could be your face.”) And gorgeously illustrated by Ruben Toledo. I’m delighted that Sweetie and Mr. Welsh would appear to have a giant hit on their hands, but is this a case of shameless dogsploitation, or is Sweetie the happiest mutt in Manhattan? You be the judge.

The Sweetie saga begins in 1995, when Mark Welsh rescues Sweetie-literally-from the gutter. “She was neurotic, abandoned, and covered in fleas and ticks,” said the 43-year-old son of a New Zealand sheep farmer, who is on the West Coast leg of his book tour. “Growing up, we had seven sheep dogs, and they worked. Working dogs were real dogs-other dogs had no point. Maybe that’s why I put Sweetie to work.” But Sweetie was, courtesy of Mr. Welsh, in for a lot more than just a balanced diet and a simple 9-to-5 routine. Unsuspecting Sweetums was about to be hand-bagged into the front row of fashion.

John Bartlett, Mr. Welsh’s partner at the time of her adoption, was already established as the sassy provocateur of the New York men’s-wear collections. Via John, Sweetie was immediately catapulted into the pretentious, tantrum-encrusted netherworld of fashion. And fashion-no doubt craving a canine reality check-welcomed her with open, bracelet-covered arms. Gradually Mr. Welsh, who had his own share of ambivalence about this world, started to see the whole circus through Sweetie’s eyes. “Having Sweetie helped me cope with the fashion world and see how funny and retarded it all was,” he said.

Things got even more Ab-Fab for little Sweets when Mr. Bartlett entered the five-times-more-insane world of women’s wear. “At my first women’s show, Sweetie disappeared and delayed the show. All the girls were lined up-Helena, Edwige, Alek-and suddenly they were all on their knees, looking for her,” recalled Mr. Bartlett. “They found her under the buffet table with a wheel of brie and Roxanne Lowit snapping away.” Sweetie was learning to play the game: As the photos in her book attest, she was more than happy to canoodle with models and celebs, or to gratuitously appear at hideous cross-promotional events wearing trendy dog attire. Blasted with lights and yodeled at by people with incomprehensible European accents, Sweetie remained unfazed. She even learned how to digest photo-shoot catering. “Mark and I took Sweetie to Milan, Balthazaar, Saint Barts,” recalls John. “Once she hung out at the Boiler Room till 4 a.m. The next day she was a bit smoky, but none the worse for wear.”

She was clearly having a ball, while the fashion world picked up the tab. And herein lies the premise of the genius character that Mr. Welsh has created: The Eloise-like Sweetie is the ultimate interloper and piss-taker-participant in the insane world of fashion and style. Mr. Welsh, with 20 years of experience at Ogilvy & Mather (i.e., 20 years of foisting brands that nobody needed), suddenly saw the potential of Sweetie the brand.

So the Sven-ghastly duo decided to go for the big time, and quickly got the reputation of a stop-at-nothing stage mother and daughter. One detractor even accused Mr. Welsh-falsely, I might add-of hot-gluing Sweetie’s little bum to a no-seam for a photo shoot. In no time, Sweetie had become New York fashion royalty with her own column in Elle magazine. Getting the book deal was the next step.

“We took 18 meetings with book publishers. I had to smuggle her into the buildings in a Lambertson Truex bag,” recalls the handsome Mr. Welsh. “In the elevator, I would haul her out of the bag and throw a rhinestone Sweetie necklace on her.” After a mini bidding war, a deal with Warner Books was struck. By the time the book was printed, Sweetie had a model agent, Ivan Bart at IMG. “He reps Carolyn Murphy and Alek Wek and Bridgit Hall,” Mr. Welsh informed me. “Chuck Bennett, IMG visionary, is handling her broadcasting, licensing and endorsements, etc.”

It is now time for Sweetie’s close-up, and she would appear to be ready. As John Bartlett says, “Sweetie always finds the light and holds her pose. Like Joan Crawford, she can cry with either eye.”

Come meet the magical Sweetie and the not-nearly-as-demented-as-I’ve-made-him-sound Mr. Welsh at Barneys on Saturday, Oct. 20, from 2 to 5 p.m. and snag a paw-tographed copy of Sweetie ($19.95). At Sweetie’s insistence, Barneys is donating book-signing proceeds to the New York Police Department’s search-and-rescue dogs. The money will go to the 62nd Street Animal Medical Center, which provides ongoing care for the dogs that suffered lacerations to their paws and various eye afflictions at ground zero.

P.S.: Charo, according to Mr. Mizrahi, who recently interviewed her for his chat show, was taught her signature shimmy by her jiggling, tail-wagging dog when she was about 3.

P.P.S.: ASPCA spokeswoman Sweetie says, “Make pet adoption your first option.” Isaac says, “If you want a pet, mutts are the way to go. Pedigree dogs are prêt-à-porter. Mutts are one of a kind, as in full, full, full couture!”