The Social Detective

By staff May 1, 2006

Contrary to popular belief, it's not so easy to make it in this town. Turns out, as they say in the cops, not everything in Sarasota is about money, social position or real estate after all. Take me, for instance. You'd think that someone who'd once been married to the Barley Baron of Britain, owned the best house on Martha's Vineyard, and also happened to be Margaret Wise's next-door neighbor on Siesta Key for eight whole years would be a social shoo-in. Alas, no.

When I returned to Sarasota after a four-year divorce hiatus in New York, no one was the least impressed by my second coming. In fact, large numbers of Important Sarasota People all the way from the Oaks to Siesta, Westway and even Longboat looked through me on multiple re-introductions, their eyes glazing over as if I'd morphed from caviar into chopped liver during my absence.

Even joining Bird Key Yacht Club did not raise my social standing to the tippy top. But thanks to Kathryn Carr, I made my stripes in the kitchen. Carr, who is so gung ho for Animal Rescue Coalition that she acquired the leash and collar of Eileen Curd's late Maltese at an ARC auction even though she has no pet herself, asked me to cook a Chinese dinner at my house for ARC's live auction two years ago. I was doubtful that an ethnic dinner chez moi would be a money maker, but I've learned it's useless to argue with a lawyer.

Who, I worried, would pay for Chinese in a little old Florida house without Phil Mancini, Paul Mattison, a bartender or valet parking?

Never assume, as they say in the cops. Sarasota happens to have a dearth of great Chinese restaurants, and although ARC supporters at the Hyatt the night of my auction might have been partying hearty on their designer martinis, pear salads with blue cheese, and filet mignon, deep down inside they must have been hankering for hoisin spare ribs, spicy Szechwan pickles, lobster Cantonese and homemade dim sum. A very swell crowd paid more than $4,000 for a homemade Chinese feast. Twice.

The first doggie dinner got a lot of buzz and drew eight more "guests" than had signed up. I had to set extra places at the last minute. Heaven knows I've never been able to count in anything but millions. Luckily, after the 10 courses and sake, nobody noticed I was a total wreck trying to get all that food out without benefit of a catering staff.

What is it about ARC that makes us do these things? Look at Sally Schule, who invited 100-plus canines to Saks for A Dog's Night Out in January. Four hundred humans also came, along with 20 heart-stoppingly cute foster puppies looking for permanent homes.

Imagine the scene. Martinis and champagne in the glasses, piddle on the floor. High- and low-caste pups were all over the place, rolling around on the marble and sniffing each other's privates. Ralph and Eleanor Graves were there without their Yorkies, but Eleanor said she'd give up her husband for Rowdie and Sophie any day. Ralph countered that he'd give up both his wives for them. Gil and Elisabeth Waters said they just couldn't live without theirs.

Janet Kane was there with her brand-new pug baby, Miss Otis. Linda and Dick Dickinson brought their two standard poodles, Monty and Torri. Unni Kaltenbacher had a tiny dachshund mixed breed attached to her shoulder for hours as she encouraged her husband, Philip, to adopt it on the spot. Pat Thompson loves Tux, her toy poodle-like Havanese, so much she was willing to dress up as Cruella de Vil for him. And Tux was willing to be dyed all over with black spots to look like one of Cruella's Dalmatians.

Linda DesMarais said her dog, Daisy, is her child: She loves her more than anyone but her husband, Doug Barker. Yellow Lab Smooch was dragging Lisa Morris all around cosmetics, and Lisa didn't care. Emily Walsh loves Sexy Bitch so much she lets her sleep under the covers. And Sally Schule beamed as Saks took on a whole different odor, I mean aura. But then she wasn't doing the cooking.

ARC was founded by Ira Barsky and Ed Sarbey four years ago to stop the wholesale euthanasia of abandoned animals. At that time, more than 6,000 Sarasota cats and dogs were being put down every year for lack of a home.

Mary Lee Richey, executive director of ARC, believes euthanasia is down 20 percent as a result of ARC's spaying and neutering, foster and adopt-athon programs, many of them operated in partnership with other local animal rescue and shelter agencies. And it's not like the old days, when all you could take home was whatever mutts happened to be in the place that day. Pet seekers can now place orders for a particular breed. This inspired me to start thinking about getting a dog for Kathryn Carr as a thank-you gift for launching me socially through that Chinese dinner.

Since I wasn't up for sale or adoption this year, I couldn't wait for ARC's gala, the HairBall. At the party, Ed Sarbey announced ARC had passed its 10,000th spay/neuter benchmark that very week. When he mentioned the little faces in shelters looking at us with such hope for a loving family, there wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Comedian Brendan Healy came all the way from England to help boost the bidding, and it seemed to work.

The Dickinsons got a third standard poodle puppy. Although Unni Kaltenbacher didn't adopt her dachshund-mix friend from Saks, she did find a home for it. Eileen Curd was motivated to start looking for a new Maltese. As for me, well, I spent some quality time in the Hyatt lobby with the dogs, cuddling and shopping the adoption puppy playpen. Kathryn Carr is going to need that leash and collar, after all.

Leslie Glass is a playwright and the author of 14 novels, including the bestselling crime series featuring NYPD's April Woo.

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