Pooch in paradise
TWO HARBORS -- If Afro Ken isn't declared America's Most Pampered Pup, it won't be for lack of trying. It's not just his name -- derived from a Hello Kitty-like Japanese cartoon character -- that's unusual. The 3-year-old male Bichon Frise has a ...
TWO HARBORS -- If Afro Ken isn't declared America's Most Pampered Pup, it won't be for lack of trying.
It's not just his name -- derived from a Hello Kitty-like Japanese cartoon character -- that's unusual. The 3-year-old male Bichon Frise has a wardrobe of almost 50 outfits. He has mountains of toys and gets specially baked treats. At the end of the day, he can crawl into a handmade bed in his own cozy nook, an offshoot of the green-and-white bedroom of his owners, Adam and Michelle Torgerson of Two Harbors, but usually he chooses the Torgersons' bed instead.
And he's the subject of the Torgersons' carefully plotted online campaign to be named America's Most Pampered Pup in a contest sponsored by a luxury dog-accessory retailer.
Visitors to The Pampered Pup's Web site, www.thepamperedpup.com , selected Afro Ken as August 2005's most doted-upon dog, which earned him a $100 gift certificate to the boutique and a shot at being named America's Most Pampered Pup.
Now the Torgersons are using dogster.com, an online community for dog lovers, and their home movie-making skills in a bid to vault Afro Ken above the other 11 contestants who've qualified for a shot at the overall title.
As of Thursday, Afro Ken had received the most votes of any male dog on the site, thanks in no small part of a video the Torgersons made of him being spoon-fed, wheeled around in a stroller and modeling his doggie couture.
Michelle Torgerson, 33, who identifies herself as Afro Ken's "mummy," said she's gotten e-mails from people as far away as Romania and Singapore, telling her they visited the site and voted for Afro Ken.
But if Afro Ken is to win, he's going to have to beat out some stiff competition.
"If he gets his little doggy friends to vote for him, sure, he could win," said Jennifer Hovey, co-owner of The Pampered Pup. "But there are hundreds of people voting on the site every day, so it's still anybody's race."
Saint Nicholas, a Bernese mountain dog from Senoia, Ga., has a customized "puppy step" so he can get into his owner's Hummer with ease. Phoebe, a Yorkshire terrier from Alpharetta, Ga., wears outfits that match her owner's every day. Ladra, an Italian greyhound from El Campo, Calif., enjoys massages and "pawticures."
"There's this dog, Phoebe, and she's just rampaging," Michelle Torgerson said. "And Darci, she's been doing a campaign."
Although the Torgersons want to win the contest, they view some of Afro Ken's competition with thinly veiled disdain.
While other contestants' profiles on ThePampered Pup's Web site profess the dogs' love for shopping and salon visits, Afro Ken's video makes it clear the he enjoys playing fetch, camping and the occasional dip in Lake Superior.
"No dog likes to go shopping," Michelle said. "I'm sorry, I don't care how frou-frou you are."
Though he has some touches of finery -- including a bone-shaped collar pendant made of Swarovski crystal -- most of Afro Ken's accoutrements are homespun. Adam made his bed and Michelle knits most of his outfits.
"Most of the stuff he has, we make," Michelle said. "You could spend a lot on all this ... but we've got other things to buy."
Coddling Afro Ken has become a hobby for the Torgersons. Though Michelle has learned to knit Afro Ken dog-sized sweaters, she's never knitted a human one.
"It makes us creative, and we have an absolute blast doing it," she said. "We live in Two Harbors, you've got to do something."
To be sure, though, it's an all-consuming hobby.
"They do pamper him more than your average," noted Felicia Wirtz, Afro Ken's groomer at the Duluth grooming salon Pooch Paradise.
The Torgersons occasionally use Kool-Aid to dye Afro Ken's snow-white fur into rainbow colors to match the coif of the Japanese cartoon character he's named after. They bring him just about everywhere in duffel-bag style dog carriers that escape detection by looking like oversized purses.
"We can take him anywhere," Michelle said. "Whenever our friends have a party and there's a rule, no dogs, that doesn't mean Afro Ken."
If Afro Ken bests the other 11 contestants and takes the title, he and the Torgersons will win airline tickets to Palm Beach, Fla., a two-night stay in a hotel and species-specific spa treatments.
Derek Hovey, co-owner of The Pampered Pup, estimated the prize's value at $5,000. The grand prize will be awarded at the Fur Ball, a fundraiser held in May at a Palm Beach-area country club to benefit a Florida humane society. Whichever dog is chosen America's Most Pampered Pup will be the gala's guest of honor.