Dog-friendly fundraiser transforms a mitzvah into a bark mitzvah

Ever seen a Bichon in a bow tie? How about a Labrador in Louis Vuitton or a Terrier in a tutu? I sure hadn’t until I attended the Tails of Love gala, a dog-friendly event held earlier this month at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco.

American Friends of Hebrew University sponsored the gala, with the proceeds of the evening going to the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, located on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem campus.

Peter Willner, AFHU’s national executive director, greeted the more than 200 attendees with some instructions: Celebrate a love of animals, Israel and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

And celebrate we did.

During pre-dinner festivities, animal lovers, many with their canine companions in tow, mixed and mingled. Dogs sampled gourmet treats from the “Bark Bar” while their owners sipped cocktails and bid on silent auction items. Offerings included a day of pampering — for Fido or Fluffy — and a luxurious stay at a pet hotel.

Several pet boutiques set up shop in the foyer, selling everything from organic dog munchies to hand-painted pet renderings on T-shirts. Guests also were urged to take their holiday photos early at the pet portrait “studio” (nothing says “Happy Chanukah” like a poodle in polyester).

As the ballroom door swung open, I, along with my colleague Rachel, entered a space that was unquestionably dog friendly. Dog walkers were on alert, eager to grab leashes when owners needed a moment away from their pets. Pooches even had their very own recreation/relief area — the Ritz wasn’t taking any chances.

Dogs not out for a stroll stayed at the tables — no chairs, but all the floor space they wanted to sit, lie down and roll over.

Tables were decorated with topiaries of dogs and cats, chocolates were placed at every setting, and a gift bag with a copy of the book “Marley & Me” welcomed every partygoer.

Several prominent AFHU representatives were present, in addition to Willner. Eric Stein, the Pacific Northwest region’s board president, introduced the canine celebrities of the night — five fluffy white Bichons. “Half a minyan,” he joked.

Stein also offered some serious remarks about the Koret School, Israel’s only veterinary school.

“I’m inspired and proud of what we’re doing,” he said. “Not just for Israel, but for the world.”

Susan Koret, lifetime chair of the board of the Koret Foundation, echoed Stein’s sentiments, noting her late husband, Joseph Koret, “would have been thrilled to hear about the great institution that bears his name.”

Throughout the evening, I must admit I was a bit distracted. Yes, the dinner was delicious, but I couldn’t help but gush over the adorable dogs. Each one was so well behaved, except for the occasional bark.

Whoops, spoke too soon.

It was John Grogan’s turn to speak. The author of “Marley & Me” and former columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer said he was shocked by how high his book (translated into Hebrew, by the way) has soared in the three and a half  years since he wrote it. The kicker, he said, was seeing Owen Wilson play him on the big screen. No, check that. It was Jennifer Aniston playing his wife, he said.

For those who hadn’t read the book or seen the movie, Grogan gave a description of his dog, Marley: “His ears were stolen from an elephant, his eyes encircled with black eyeliner. He drank out of the toilet, chewed the corners of our family heirlooms and got kicked out of obedience school on the second day.”

Even with all of his faults, Grogan said, Marley had a “pure heart filled with joy and exuberance. He lived each day like it was the last one of his life.”

He continued: “Dogs don’t care what car you drive, what zip code you live in, your race, creed or class. Give them your heart and they’ll give you theirs.”

Soon thereafter, a tiny bark could be heard from the corner. It was followed by another bark — until every dog in the room was showing off its yelping prowess.

“Dogs make us better people,” Grogan said as the audience erupted in laughter. “They bring to us an awareness of the beauty in the moment. That’s why we all love our animals.”