"Do I look like an Italian greyhound?" asks Ken Zane, a svelte Liev Schreiber clone who is standing in his Englewood, New Jersey, home dressed entirely in black. Avalon, his three-year-old, equally svelte, and partially brunette champion Italian greyhound, is sitting on the lap of a chiropractor, who is tapping his spine with her thumb.
The house call is part of the flurry of activity to ready Avalon for his first appearance at the Westminster Dog Show, the Oscars of the canine world, on February 11 and 12. Having won Best of Breed in the prestigious Progressive show for toy breeds last January, Avalon is a contender. And Zane is pacing -- and chatting -- nervously. "I mean, if you saw the Chinese-crested breeders," he continues, referring to the dogs with spiky tufts sprouting only from their head and feet. "This guy wanted a breed that reflected his personality. He looked like Ric Ocasek and Rod Stewart rolled into one!"
Avalon was bred to be a show dog. (His registered name is Ch. Lorenc's Butch Cassidy.) "He gets into the ring and he just turns it on. He really enjoys it." So does Zane: He became so enamored of the doggie world, in fact, that he cut back on fashion photography and launched DogShow, a line of canine paraphernalia -- from beds to sweaters -- that sells at Henri Bendel. (Lou Reed ordered two of everything for his rat terrier, Lola.)
After the chiropractor, Zane outfits Avalon in a wool coat and a mohair scarf for his Manhattan appointments. "It would be nice if Sigourney Weaver came to Westminster," says Zane, opening a brown oil-cloth bag for Avalon to step into. "She has Italian greyhounds. I'm sure Glenn Close will be there with Pete, a papillon. His father won Westminster in 2000, I think."
An Italian greyhound has never won Westminster, as Zane is acutely aware. "Shih Tzus do really well, but I hate those fluffy things," he says. Underdog breeds have ways of enhancing their status, however. "People take ads in Dog News and in The Italian Greyhound Magazine. I never do ads. Well, I did one, but it was a thank-you after he won the Progressive."
When the two arrive at Biscuits & Bath, a doggie-health spa in midtown, Avalon's handler gets to work shaving off his whiskers. Pointing to the tiny white hairs in Avalon's black patches, he notes, "We'll pluck those next week."
"This whole time, Avalon has actually been really calm," says Zane, from the sidelines. "As a treat this week, I'm feeding him duck," he confesses. "This week will be it, though. It's $8.99 a pound."