2008-11-06 / Front Page

Peanut-size pup makes big impression in NYC

N.B. Chihuahua wins masquerade contest; winnings donated to local shelter project
BY JULIE KIRSH Staff Writer

Talk about a "rags to riches" story — Peanut, a rescue Chihuahua from North Brunswick, took first prize at the Times Square Dog Day Masquerade held in New York City on Oct 19.

Peanut, appearing as Elle Woods from "Legally Blonde" Peanut, appearing as Elle Woods from "Legally Blonde" Dressed up as Elle Wood from "Legally Blonde," Peanut won "Best in Show," and bested more than 85 canines, 20 of which were Chihuahuas.

"Last year's winner was a Chihuahua also, and people said there was a conspiracy," said Peanut's owner, Heather Scheffold, a North Brunswick resident and member of the North Brunswick Humane Association (NBHA).

The 4-pound pooch sported a blond wig, tiara, hot pink sweater and sunglasses, although the glasses were an afterthought.

"That was a fluke. She was squinting and those were mine and I put them on her and she never shook her head once," Scheffold said.

Peanut, 8, was fostered two years ago by Scheffold when the dog was brought into the Old Bridge Animal Shelter. Her humble beginnings started at the North Brunswick Dog Walk-a-Thon. She's walked in the North Brunswick Memorial Day parades, and won the 2007 L'Oreal "Your Dog's Worth It, Too" costume contest, but the Times Square contest put her on the map.

Peanut Peanut Scheffold feels Peanut's behavior is key to her wins.

"She absolutely enjoys it, she looks right at the judges and does her thing. Her personality wins those contests, not her costume." The dog's costumes do make a statement though, such as her sexy pirate get-up or her "Doll-Chi- Parton" ensemble.

The contest was emceed by Wali Collins of Comedy Central, and one of its celebrity judges was William Berloni, a trainer of dogs for Broadway shows. Peanut's winnings from the contest included doggy items and prizes and a $250 Petland gift card. Scheffold donates all of the winnings she receives to the NBHA or the Old Bridge Animal Shelter.

A few activists out there might cry "animal abuse" at the thought of dressing a dog for competitions, of which Scheffold is all too aware.

"That's been brought up a lot, dressing dogs. My response to that is if the dog's not comfortable, then you don't do it. Peanut actually puts her head through the shirt herself, and her paws through the arms. She falls asleep when she's being dressed because she's so comfortable."

Scheffold continued, "She loves it, probably because the place we got her, she got no attention."

Peanut was dumped on the street and brought into the Old Bridge Animal Shelter, had had several litters via Csection, and was not spayed. She was covered in fleas, and was missing hair on her body either from hormones or malnourishment.

"She had no hair, so we had to cover her — she had fur missing all over," Scheffold said.

The Chihuahua also had worms, and weighed a mere 3 ½ pounds, but now weighs in at a healthy 4.2 pounds thanks to home cooking of chicken, brown rice, veggies, and vitamin and mineral supplements. This is out of necessity due to the fact that most of Peanut's neglected teeth rotted, and the few remaining are cleaned every six months for $500.

Scheffold claimed Peanut still lifts her hind legs to go to the bathroom, a sign that she may have had urine burn, possibly from being caged.

This Chihuahua is definitely "uncaged" now, and in almost Pavlovian conditioning, dances around when one of her event costumes comes out.

"Take out anything that she knows are clothes for her and she gets super-excited," said Scheffold.

Several of Peanut's outfits are made by her owner, and she also uses doll clothes. Scheffold's mother — who initially thought her "insane" for dressing her dog — also buys the pooch several dresses

"When she gets her picture taken, she does her diva act and sticks her tongue out as if to say 'I know I'm beautiful,' " said Scheffold.

Peanut's outdoor attire ranges from hoodies in the backyard to sweaters and boots in the winter, and a "dress harness" for walks, although when she's in a parade, her owner breaks out the baby stroller for the one-mile route — a long distance for a Chihuahua!

Scheffold, who also fostered several rabbits and owns three, claims she would never dress her rabbits, but Peanut. however. was dressed as a rabbit to promote a New Jersey House Rabbit Society's Adoption Day parade.

The Chihuahua's owner learned of the Times Square event through the New Jersey Chihuahua Meetup Group, a group of 70-80 dogs she co-founded one year ago. She's also championing NBHA's Project Shelter effort.

This is where Peanut's "parading" comes into play.

"I do it to socialize her and I want to get the word out that you can find a purebred Chihuahua in a shelter — there's no need to go to a pet store," Scheffold said.

Peanut is the NBHA's official mascot, and emceed its dog walks in 2007 and 2008.

Upon getting the pooch from the shelter, "I didn't want to leave her home when I first got her, so I brought her to NBHA meetings dressed in a sweater, and they encouraged me to make her our official mascot in their parade," Scheffold said.

Joan Cenicola, the NBHA president, asked if Peanut could march in the Memorial Day parades, which the agreeable dog did in a patriotic dress, carrying the American flag. The Association fully encourages Scheffold to enter Peanut in events, because the educational group needs more members to publicize its Project Shelter. There are no shelters in the Greater Brunswick area, Milltown or Monroe, according to Peanut's owner. She noted there are approximately 500 requests a year to place dogs and cats, and that doesn't include abandoned dogs or cats.

Scheffold, a former member of the Houserabbit Society, and the owner of three rescue rabbits, also gets at least two member requests monthly to place rabbits, and rabbits are the third most popular animal surrendered to shelters, after dogs and cats.

Scheffold's first rescue, Coda — so-named because Scheffold teaches music — would've lived several more years had it not been for a botched spay. Having to have Coda euthanized was and is a haunting moment in Scheffold's life. The tragedy was the impetus Scheffold needed.

"So many things have happened in my life that made me who I am and have driven me to be the animal activist I am today," she said.

Despite her efforts for the NBHA, more volunteers are needed. "Once the shelter is built, we'll use whatever we can to make sure it's a no-kill facility, which requires a certain amount of foster volunteers."

The "foster mom" reminisced about her choice of dog.

"I found the perfect dog in a shelter. I didn't choose a Chihuahua, she chose me. I always thought they were yappy ankle-biters, but she doesn't bark at all," claimed Scheffold.

However, Peanut does have a habit of chasing squirrels.

"Peanut is the sweetest dog you'll ever meet, and breaks all the stereotypes about Chihuahuas," she continued. Unlike her inspiration, Elle Woods, Peanut is low-maintenance and gets manicures at home, and is bathed in a sink.

The compassionate owner of the diva has one complaint: "She's a food thief and is known as the 'Cake Thief' at doggie meet-ups."

Her owner says the Chihuahua won't be auditioning for the Lifetime television show "Off the Leash" anytime soon.

"I'm not a stage mom, but I would love to have her be a spokesdog and promote the need for a shelter." Peanut also doesn't do any tricks, and due to her upbringing, doesn't know how to play with toys, the Rutgers University graduate claimed.

So far as her pint-sized pooch, "I'd love to get Peanut into becoming a therapy dog. She brings a smile to everyone's face, and why not people in a hospital or nursing home?"

Project Shelter is foremost on her mind, and Peanut will be entered in contests mainly to help promote the need for the shelter, and to educate people to bring awareness to the fact that you can get a purebred in a shelter.

"I definitely think we're going to work toward getting a shelter in North Brunswick, and keeping Peanut happy and healthy," she said.

Visit www.northbrunswickhumane.org for more about NBHA and Project Shelter.

Contact Julie Kirsh at

juliek@gmnews.com.

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