On a Wednesday last week, The Observer scooted into a back booth of the Jumeirah Essex House’s dining room for a wedding menu tasting with the perpetually perky Wendy Diamond, founder of Animal Fair magazine. She was in the middle of planning what is expected to be the most expensive dog wedding in history.
It’s a surprisingly competitive category these days. Last year in the U.K., registrar Ann Clark officiated at a $32,000 dog wedding … one that included a chocolate fountain that could have literally killed the newlyweds. How’s that for lavish?
Surrounding Ms. Diamond at the table was what looked like half of the hotel’s PR and dining staff, Gourmet Advisory Services founder Harriette Rose Katz, and two assistants to Ms. Diamond, who were documenting the entire lunch on digital video. Also in attendance was the radiant bride-to-be, Lucky, a Maltese Ms. Diamond adopted in 1999. In July, according to Ms. Diamond, Lucky will be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most expensive pet wedding, an event valued at $140,000.
This will not be Lucky’s first time in the record book either; last year she was officially crowned the animal most photographed with celebrities. (363 and counting). The Maltese has been cuddled by everyone from Barbara Walters to Hugh Grant and Kim Kardashian.
Urged to try to the appetizers created by Jumeirah Essex House’s executive chef Nathan Eckhaus and Vijayan Francis, we happily noshed on the tiny gourmet “Snausages,” (pigs in blankets), “Kibbles ’n’ bits,” (a mincemeat cup) and miniature grilled cheese with truffle oil in the shape of a dog bone. Like that chocolate fountain, none of these foods were really suitable for canine consumption. For the four-legged friends on the guest list, there were bone-shaped doggie cookies.
Chris Walters, the director of PR at Jumeirah Essex House, estimated the cost of renting out the hall and catering the event, a first or the hotel, at $35,000. The services of Ms. Rose, one of New York’s premiere wedding planners and a personal friend of Ms. Diamond’s, command some $50,000.
“We’ve just gotten back from trying on our dresses,” Ms. Diamond gushed as Ms. Rose secretly fed Lucky a human snausage under the table. “They are these amazing light blue numbers designed by Henry and Michelle Roth.” The gowns ran $8,000 for Ms. Diamond, $4,000 for Lucky.
Then there were the floral arrangements, the band, the sushi station and the mixologist Ms. Diamond would be bringing in separately, the chuppah (Lucky is Jewish) and the Roberto Negrin–designed dress Lucky had donned for her bridal shower at the Kimpton Muse Hotel.
There is one technical issue with Lucky’s Guinness bid. Every element of the wedding and the reception has been generously donated. The Hank Lane Orchestra is playing for free, Floralia Decorators is doing the arrangements at no cost, the hotel is lending the space and the caterers, and Ms. Katz isn’t charging for her services. Even those dresses were free.
The most expensive dog wedding in history, and Ms. Diamond isn’t paying a cent. Even more bizarre—and how much more bizarre can a dog wedding get, honestly?—Lucky still doesn’t have a groom picked out.
Ms. Diamond has made a career off of being a “personality,” which is to say that she has made a habit of appearing on various television programs and popping up on Page Six and in other venues. A petite brunette with bright blue eyes, she talks more to the camera that seems perennially to be following her than to us. Her laugh is actually a bark, so loud that the first time we heard it, we literally jumped out of our cushioned dining booth. We were still unsure why there were camera crews filming a menu tasting for a dog wedding in the first place. Were we on a reality show?
“No, they are with me,” Ms. Diamond responded, not bothering to ask us to sign release forms.
Ms. Diamond has been dubbed the “Canine Queen” (Forbes), a “Pet Diva” (The New York Post) and the “Martha Stewart of the bone and the milk dish” (The New Yorker). She has popped up in almost every trend story ever taped or written about dogs (Vogue, People, The Oprah Winfrey Show, etc.), and was one of the judges for CBS’ 2008 Greatest American Dog. (You may remember Lucky from her own series on the Travel Channel, Lucky’s Travels.)
Though she contributes to animal charities, Ms. Diamond’s focus is on spotlighting them through her own work as an animal rescue advocate and pet expert. She’s written seven books about animals (including How to Understand Men Through Their Dogs and How to Understand Women Through Their Cats), hosted the first-ever pet fashion show, grand marshalled the world’s largest dog parade and hosted pet comedy shows. She also launched Animal Fair the same year she adopted Lucky. The magazine (online only) is devoted to tips on how those with attachment issues can spend a lot of time and money on their animals. Bark Mitzvahs, anyone?
“Oh, god, if you think I’m crazy, you should see the retailers who make those little doggie yarmulkes,” Ms. Diamond said, rolling her eyes. Then she laughed. Or barked.
But this arranged marriage wasn’t merely a stunt to raise money for one of Ms. Diamond’s animal causes (though it was that as well). In February, Lucky was diagnosed with cancer of the spleen; the disease has metastasized, and though Ms. Diamond has changed her dog’s lifestyle and eating habits, the doctors have given the Maltese three months to a year to live. Thus the rush to find an eligible suitor for Lucky, in the form of an online contest, where anyone can enter his or her pets. (“It doesn’t have to be male … or even a dog!” Ms Diamond, a true progressive, told us proudly.) Then Lucky’s fans will “vote” on their 10 favorites, though Ms. Diamond will make the final determination on Lucky’s behalf. The finalists get to come to the ceremony as a consolation prize.
If Lucky was troubled by the prospect of an arranged marriage, or her impending mortality, she didn’t show it. She sat silently on Ms. Diamond’s lap for most of our conversation, seeming to have accepted her fate as both a bride and a cancer victim. Of course, the wedding won’t be a legally binding agreement, nor will it require a trip to City Hall for a certificate. It doesn’t even obligate Lucky to spend more than several hours with her new husband, whomever he (or she) may be.
Ms. Diamond isn’t totally opposed to letting Lucky get hitched to a shelter dog, but she’s not so sure about adopting another animal. “What if Lucky and the new dog don’t get along?” Ms. Diamond wondered. The pooches will most likely live in separate homes, which might be something human couples tying the knot should consider.
So why the marriage? “Lucky has been doing dog benefits for her entire career, and this is her very last event she’ll be hosting,” Ms. Diamond said. “She’s been helping raise awareness and money for animal charities, and once she’s gone, I need to know that someone will be carrying on her legacy of helping others.”
“You mean, like another dog mascot?” we asked.
“No … most of the people entering their pets to marry Lucky are either shelters involved with charity work, or individuals who support animal rights’ causes,” Ms. Diamond explained. Essentially, the winners’ owners would help Ms. Diamond put on more events for charities.
“So it’s not about dogs in love?” we asked, a bit deflated. Ms. Diamond looked at us like we were daft. Let’s not get crazy here. Turns out the event is more a benefit than a wedding. Tables are going for up to $10,000. But don’t worry: all the proceeds will go to the Humane Society.
Meanwhile, Ms. Katz was fretting over coordinating the flower arrangements. “They can’t be white …” she confirmed. “You don’t want a white bride, right? So she won’t be in any light or white colors?” Ms. Diamond told her friend they’d discuss the issue later. Lucky, after all, is a white dog to begin with.
If these doggie weddings become a bona fide trend, Ms. Diamond will deserve much of the credit. Dog christenings, bark mitzvahs, animal weddings … she advocated all of the above in the pages of Animal Fair. She drew the line, however, at a doggie bris, which seemed to us the most intuitive of all these animal ceremonies. If you’re going to neuter your pup anyway …
“No, no, no … You couldn’t find a rabbi to do that,” Ms. Diamond insisted, even as she debated where to put the chuppah in the hotel’s smaller dining room. (In total, Ms. Diamond is expecting around 250 guests, though Mr Walters kept complaining that the number was going up every time she mentioned it.)
Ms. Diamond is probably right about the bris. Even the venerable bark mitzvah has raised theological hackles over the years.
“This is nothing less than a desecration of a cherished Jewish tradition and degrades some of the central principles of Jewish life,” wrote Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff in a 1997 New York Times letter to the editor, adding, “I urge readers to reject such practices.”
Hindu priest Robin Cofer also has a bone to pick with Ms. Diamond’s approach to non-human theology. Seated in the kitchen of her 6,000-square-foot penthouse atop the Trump World Tower, the wife of Sway nightclub owner and real estate mogul Dominick D’Alleva lovingly stroked her shelter-rescued Chihuahua, Yoda, and tried to be diplomatic. “As long as the animal is happy and comfortable, that’s all that matters,” she said. Ms. Cofer had recently offered a ritual blessing during publicist R. Couri Hay’s dog christening of his long-haired Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This event was attended by Ms. Diamond, as well.
Ms. Cofer was ordained as Swami Pranavananda in 2008, after five years in a Chicago seminary. She is qualified to perform most types of ceremonies, though she usually sticks to human weddings.
“I’m fine with animal ceremonies, as long as it’s about the animals, and not about the owner,” said the thin, lithe blonde when we broached the subject of dog weddings. “The point of a blessing, or a ritual, is to transmit energy. So I don’t really understand how dogs can be ‘married,’ since they don’t understand the concept.” Ms. Cofer wore yoga pants and had her hair in a messy bun. A soundtrack of chanting monks could be heard throughout the massive space.
During our chat, Ms. Cofer’s friend and business partner, Leesa Rowland, arrived for a meeting. The two women are in the process of opening Animal Ashram, a no-kill animal shelter that will also offer pujas for pets and humans, as well as yoga (pet owners do the poses; animals merely observe).
Ms. Rowland, a brash Texas blonde right out of Real Housewives (she will make several appearances this season) and an actress best known for her work in various Troma horror films, has gone undercover at puppy mills and frequently rails against the “pet industry” as the New York liaison for Last Chance for Animals.
Though a friendly acquaintance of Ms. Diamond’s, she too had a bone to pick with Lucky’s nuptials.
“This all about Wendy, not the dog,” she snapped. “It’s a gimmick, and we’re not into gimmicks.”
Later that week, we see Ms. Diamond run into Ms. Rowland at a premiere party for the new season of Real Housewives.
“Are you coming to Lucky’s wedding?” Ms. Diamond asked after the obligatory cheek-kiss.
“You didn’t invite me,” Ms. Rowland frowned.
“Oh, you have to come!”
As we were leaving the hotel after our lunch date with Lucky, we rounded the corner of the lobby to see Ms. Diamond accosting a dead-ringer for the Indian from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In his hands was the smallest, cutest puppy The Observer had ever seen.
“Gene, Gene!” Ms. Diamond shrieked, addressing the KISS singer Gene Simmons as if they were old friends. “You are coming to Lucky’s wedding, aren’t you? You have to come! And I have to get a photo of your dog and Lucky.”
Mr. Simmons semi-obliged, holding up his fur ball (“It doesn’t have a name yet,” he told us) and posing while Ms. Diamond held up her own beloved pet; later she would tell us that since Mr. Simmons wasn’t holding her dog, the photo wouldn’t make it into the official celebrity photo tally for the luckiest dog in the world.
Update: In a terrible case of timing, Lucky the dog died last night from metastasized spleen cancer. Read the update and obituary here.