In my next life I want to come back as someone’s pampered pet: a Prytania Street poodle, a St. Charles Avenue cat or perhaps a lazy Audubon Street turtle. I want someone to feed me, pet me, fuss over me and be thrilled at the sight of me when they come home. As I dream, others are reaping those benefits; like the dog I saw getting a massage or the cat wearing a diamond collar. Here is a look at some very privileged animals, some who might’ve started off on the wrong side of the tracks but are now living in splendor! The Good Life Margarita’s Darling Anyone who has ever gotten an email from Margarita Bergan knows she’s signs off “Margarita, Darling.”  I’ve never known why she doesn’t use Tito’s paw print there instead of a her lipstick kiss.

It doesn’t take much to get her going about Tito! “Darling, it was love at first sight! I was visiting my friend Mary Katherine Lonatro, the former owner of a pet grooming business and the Captain of Shangri-la, at her home in Biloxi when I noticed the smallest, most perfect stag (red)  Miniature Pinscher, I have ever seen. I was fascinated .” But when she commented to her fiancee, he said “One too many.”

That registered, but Bergan had never owned a dog because she’s allergic to cat and dog hair and, as a bit of a workaholic, never had the time. Still, the vivacious Bergan, whose bright red hair is often tucked under one of her signature chapeaus, couldn’t get this dog out of her mind. He was so delicate, enchanting and tiny … plus, he was “one too many.” “So, I approached Mary Katherine and I offered her a deal. I said ‘if that dog fits my bra, named your price!’” (Trust us, if you know Margarita, you know she said this.) The owner replied “ Oh, you like Rudolph?”

“You bet I liked him. I wanted him so much and proceeded to put him in my loose fitting outfit. He loved it. Stayed right stayed there,” says the realtor with Ladder & Blum who knows how to drive a bargain. “I was determined to keep that dog in my bosom and take him home with me. So Mary Katherine said, ‘$450 and he’s yours.’ I came home with him.” Done deal.

As it happened, that weekend Tito Puente died and Margarita reminisced with a friend how she knew him from New York and how they would always visit when he came to the House of Blues. “Every time I said Tito’s name, Rudolph would look up. We decided in honor of Tito Puente, Rudolph will be renamed.  ‘Tito, Mambo King’ is how he is registered in American Kennel Club.  I affectionately call him Tito Lindo!” she smiles.

“He is the love of my life, gives me unconditioned love and has traveled with me sitting, decked out in bow tie, in some of the best restaurants in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and everywhere that canines are allowed. Europeans are so good about letting pets be with you in restaurants. In the U.S., one is fairly limited to sidewalk cafes.”

In a town that loves its Carnival festivities, it comes as no surprise to learn that Tito is the Royal Pooch of the Krewe of Cork and has served as a Royal Duke for the Mystick Krewe of Barkus for several years. He’s been photographed by the worldwide syndicate Associated Press wearing outfits which often mirror his mistress’ ensembles. Bergan claims, and no one doubts, that he may be one of the best dressed canines in the city. And, that his taste in food as refined as his costumes, “He loves decadent food such as lobster, salmon, T-bone steaks and he hates dog food.”

Miniature pinchers are considered the king of the toy dogs, Bergan says. “They are often referred to as being  a lot of dog in a little body.” Sadly, part of that body is missing – a part of his ear after an unfortunate fight with a much bigger dog. “We know he’s small, but he doesn’t know it! He’s always after big French mademoiselles, robust Spanish senoritas and, of course, American bitches.” Ole, Tito! The Good Life Bonnie and John Boyd’s Unconventional Hilda Hilda may go to the office but she’s no working class dog. The “love child” of John Boyd, president of Alamo Services, and wife Bonnie, owner of the destination management company, BBCDM, Hilda is a rescue dog who acclimated with ease to a Garden District lifestyle, down to goody bags from Galatoire’s and Antoine’s.

She was a 4.5-pound, scared, stressed out, long-haired dachshund curled in a ball when the Boyds spotted her in the Japonica Street SPCA. As they looked, a custodian approached asking if they were “bringing Lola back?” Looking into a pair of big, sad eyes, John’s heart melted. He said the little black dog was coming home with them and her name was now Hilda.  The guys said, “Oh, I am so glad, because I was movin’ her from cage to cage so’s to avoid her being put down. I was gonna have to take her home and my wife was gonna divorce me ’cuz I already have nine dogs at home.”

 So Hilda, née Lola, came to live with the Boyds in their lower Garden District digs. “Over the first few months she gained weight and is now a svelte 11 pounds,” says Bonnie, who admits that like many in New Orleans, Hilda has to watch her weight.
(In doggie terms that means indulging in a fewer “munchie bones” daily.) “Her nutrition is carefully overseen by veterinarians Dr. Cheri and Dr. Ned at Crescent City Veterinarians on Nashville Avenue. “Dachshunds, particularly those that ride in large, designer bags or in parental arms are prone to weight gain,” says Bonnie.
“Her name derives from her Alsatian influence; she is, after all, a dachshund and trilingual in English, French and German, although her German is a little rusty,” she says.  Actually, Hilda answer to calls, commands and cuddle talk in English and French. 

She also has a vast wardrobe of costumes. “Early on we explored fashion options, beginning with sleepwear with footies, which were particularly successful in getting guests overstaying their welcome to depart. We expanded to thematic collars and holiday wear,” continues her doting mother who shops at Chiwagaga in the French Quarter and Petcetera on Magazine Street, which also serves as Hilda’s spa for shampoos, massages and four paw pedicures. 

“Oh Lord, there have been costumes! Some I like, many I hate, but there’s no stopping her admirers from gifting her with costume: a leopard stroller, Santa’s helper, bumble bee, Shanghai Lil’!” says John. “I’m okay with the Saints number … [but] give that dog a ruffle at the neck and she thinks she’s the Queen of Comus!”

Hilda is a seasoned traveler; staying in four- and five-star hotels in New Orleans, Point Clear, Natchez and across the South with her parents, who tend to shun hotels that aren’t pet friendly.  Bonnie, like any good stage mother, claims, “While she doesn’t work full time, management arranges for special appearances – in costume or not – that may be made though BBC Destination Management. You may view Hilda on the Web site and in company literature.”

Hilda, it seems, serves as a pedigree consultant at her mother’s company, where she spends much of her day sitting under the presidential desk. “She is often photographed and has been quoted in national and international hospitality industry magazines.  In post-Katrina coverage, she was mentioned more often than her parents by a certain Canadian journalist, much to the chagrin of her father who was not mentioned at all.”

“It has been noted that Hilda may well be more popular than her parents,” the Boyds smile. The Good Life Henrietta Hall and her show horses While dogs and cats have groomers, costumes and adoring parents, when you get into the category of show horses, there’s a lot more pampering than even the most above-average pet gets.

For champion rider Henrietta Hall, known on the circuit as Henri, the interest in horses began at age 4, when she was photographed by a photographer who traveled through towns including her native Brownsville, Texas, taking children’s portraits with a small pony. “Mom put me on that little paint and that was it. Love at first sight,” says Hall, whose father resisted pleas for a horse but encouraged lessons and riding “OPP” (other people’s ponies).

“I didn’t own, hell, I couldn’t afford a horse until I was in my 20s and living in on a farm in Folsom. Oh, boy, when I got that horse! It was a quarter horse; I rode Western ’cause I’m from Texas,” Hall says. Then things happened – like children, divorce, a job with Delta Airlines – and riding fell by the wayside.

Fast forward: Daughters in college, a happy second marriage, a visit to Denney’s Barn on Oak Street and a horse 16-hands high named Brio. And it was love, again. The horse, now 18 years old, and rider both trained in the Western Pleasure and English Flat classes with Denny and Red Benoit in Covington. Over the years they’ve won a lot of buckles (trophies in Western division competitions) together.

“Brio is my star, old, but my star,” says Hall, who added Topper, a 12-year-old thoroughbred jumper, and Pablo, a Mecklenburg (German bred) 10-year-old jumper, to her stable. The three spend most of their time at “you-could-eat-off-the-floor stalls” Las Camanas, an equestrian training center in Santa Fe, N.M. where Hall competes on the Western circuit.

“Oh, show horses’ maintenance is serious,” Hall explains. “Climate controlled stables; a gaggle of handlers, a special diet, people to turn them out in their own paddocks every day. Sarah Williams, a grand prix rider, is their trainer. There are stable hands who bathe, feed and muck stalls; a groomer; a farrier [blacksmith] for their custom shoes [they are re-shod every 4 to 6 weeks depending on competition fields]; a vet; a masseuse; and braiders [who use yarn exactly matched in color to a horse’s mane] to plait manes and tails before each competition. They’re better groomed than I am,” laughs the petite equestrienne who keeps in shape working with personal trainer Jimmy Gaubert, a former Mr. Universe, and regular riding sessions on OPP. “Oh, I forgot the Haulers. They drive horses, sometimes 10 or more on 18-wheelers from show to show. If I had known all this when I started, I’m not sure I would have taken competition on,” Hall admits. “You don’t have to have all this if you just like riding. I tell friends, especially parents, their children can learn, train and have fun at Cascade at Audubon Stable and Equest Farm at City Park or Denney’s. I’m just obsessed.”

And she has the ribbons, buckles and trophies to prove it. The Good Life Paws for Reflection
Chef Susan Spicer answers questions about her pets Pet names, approximate ages, breeds and genders: Jack, 4 years old, male, domestic short hair cat; Tom, 2 years old, [also domestic short hair]

Tell me a little about your family, and how/when your pets joined the gang. We got Jack from the Jefferson SPCA for my stepdaughter, Evelyn’s ninth birthday – so he was supposed to be hers, but I told her that you can’t officially claim a cat until you change his litter box (which I don’t think has happened yet and she’s turning 13 this month). I went in this little glass room with about 50 cats and kittens all mewing and crying to be taken home, but this little calico crawled all the way up my leg and wouldn’t take no for an answer!

My brother, Hank, rescued Tom off the street when he got hit by a car and took him to the vet to have his leg put back together. He already had two cats, so when Tom’s leg healed up, he moved in with us.

Kelly, my stepson, has a hamster, Houdini, who’s an endless source of fascination for both Tom and Jack.

Do you costume, accessorize, or glitter your pets? Why or why not? We do not costume our cats. We have tried innumerable times to put collars and ID tags on them but they manage to lose or break every one.

What’s the greatest joy of pet ownership? Free (well, sort of free) entertainment and there’s nothing more comforting than a purring cat on your lap or snuggled up next to you in bed.

For my husband, Chip, it’s watching Tom walk the backyard fence with a struggling mouse in his mouth.

How do you manage pet care with your busy schedule? (And how do you keep fur out of the kitchen?) That’s the beauty of cats – you don’t have to manage them at all! They manage you, actually. They’re both shorthairs and they are definitely indoor/outdoor guys.

Where, in your house, do your pets like to hang out?  The beds, all of them!
Certain pets have a reputation for being stealthy – are your pets? Jack is definitely not stealthy. He gets teased by everyone but me for being, let’s just say, a tad overweight.

Tom is our hunter and I appreciate the fact that he seems to polish off his prey without offering it to us first.

After Tom’s operation on his leg, he lost a lot of feeling in his hindquarters and his tail was totally dead – we would trip over it and sometimes even stand on it without any of us realizing it, even him. So we had it cut off, because we were afraid he would get it caught in something during his meanderings.

Since you’re a whiz in the kitchen, do you ever cook for your pets? What are their favorite foods? No, I’ve tried fresh chicken, fish, you name it. Jack is my Fancy Feast lover and Tom just eats dry food – another reason Chip admires him.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve observed your pet doing? Involves Tom and a rodent tail, let’s leave it at that.

Some people say animals have a sixth sense – do your pets? Jack can sense me opening a can of Fancy Feast two blocks away.

Finish this sentence: The weirdest trophy my pet has presented me with is … We think Tom killed a snake in the back yard.

If your pet(s) were a famous historic figure/duo/group, who would they be, and why? Laurel and Hardy.

– Leigh Ann Stuart