The coronation ball at the posh Windsor Court hotel was filled Feb. 11 with men and women in Carnival finery. On the dance floor, the king was held with care after giving a tiara to his queen, who also was in a loving clutch, both couples moving to the music.
Then the DJ played “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
And the queen barked.
“I’d never seen her do that before,” said Bradley J. "Barry" Cooper Jr., dance partner and human father of — officially — Force’s Diety of Wisdom, a 4-pound fluffy white Pomeranian, aka Athena, and, this week, the 2017 queen of the Krewe of Barkus.
King Maxmilian T. Roth is 10 pounds, a short-haired gray Chihuahua mix with a white face and feet. He danced with his human, Sherry Roth, who confided later, “When he met the queen, he told me, ‘She’s beautiful!’ Then he whispered, ‘She’s hot.’ ”
Whatever. On Sunday, their royal activities will culminate with the 2 p.m. Barkus parade, when as many as 1,500 decorated dogs and accompanying people will ride and walk from Armstrong Park through the French Quarter under the theme "Pirates of the Crescent City: Barkus Tells Tales of Jean LaFleabag." Proceeds averaging $20,000 to $25,000 are distributed to about a dozen local pet shelters and organizations.
For the royal canines, it’s been a full week, beginning Feb. 11 with Queen Athena’s 7 a.m. breakfast with city leaders at Café du Monde, a personal appearance at hot dog heaven Dat Dog, the gala ball, Thursday’s House of Blues Benefit and the annual media lunch Friday at Galatoire's, where lamb chops were on the menu.
However, even amid the whirlwind of Carnival obligations, the royal pair are, first and foremost, beloved family members, and Roth and Cooper speak lovingly and whimsically about their dogs. One thing they have in common: Max and Athena accompany their humans almost everywhere.
Looking affectionately at her beloved pup, Roth said, “It was love at first sight.”
“I had lost a dog on Sunday and was grieving and, on Friday, thought a new pair of shoes might help. But my car drove itself to the pound. It was very crowded. He had been dropped there with his mother and her four puppies. A volunteer was playing with him in the bathroom. That was it. I brought him home.”
Roth said Max knew he was destined to be royalty. He’s been a duke in Barkus every year since 2007. She said he dresses up all the time. She lifted his royal robes to show his T-shirt: black, with “Rock Star” on it. One shirt shouts “FBI.” Roth said, “When he wears that in airports, people scatter. They think he’s checking for drugs.”
Although they live in Boca Raton, Florida, the New Orleans connection goes way back. After earning her doctorate in clinical psychology at Ole Miss, Roth did residencies in several New Orleans hospitals in the 1980s and ran Youth Alternatives, a precursor to Covenant House.
Now when she sees patients, Max usually is there as a therapy dog.
Sometimes when counseling, especially with children, Roth said, “I’ll discuss the case with him in front of the patient. And the kid will go, ‘Wait, what did he say?’ I’ll say, ‘Something about school or home?’ And the kid will say, ‘Yes!’ ”
The queen also visits patients in hospitals, said Cooper, whose late English setter, Norm, was King Barkus in 2006. But Sunday, her focus will be on Carnival, with Cooper’s nieces and nephews sharing her float and tossing beads, flying discs, cups, chocolates and other throws with Athena’s name and/or picture on them.
“She’s friendly and curious, and she never strays,” Cooper said, stroking Athena's fluffy white fur while she sat in his lap. At the Feb. 11 ball, dressed in “an Audrey Hepburn-inspired” black silk gown with a jeweled peacock — and peacock feather hat — she was “very calm,” he said. “She got ahold of a lamb chop and left the ball a little heavier.”
Only 1 year and 4 months old, Queen Athena is so small, she’s literally just a handful, and if she seems fitful on occasion, Cooper said, “She’s not aggressive; she’s protective.”
On ordinary days in the French Quarter, she wakes up Cooper at 5:30 a.m. so they can take a predawn walk beside the Mississippi River, and later, she relishes running through the house looking for pens, pencils and highlighters to hide. Her favorite New Orleans foods: fried chicken from McHardy’s Chicken and Fixin’, Datburgers at Dat Dog and muffulettas from Central Grocery.
A Houma native who attended the University of New Orleans and Loyola University School of Law, Cooper and Stuart Smith, an environmental attorney, are globetrotters with other residences in Miami and Paris. Cooper has a commercial pilot’s license, and Athena sometimes flies in the cockpit with him. “She lands the plane pretty well,” he said, smiling.
Her story might not be as sad as some Barkus royalty, but Cooper said Athena, who was born near Minneapolis, “was destined for a life of boredom in a fenced yard by herself, with no other dogs or children to play with while her humans were busy with corporate jobs.”
Now she’s never lonely. And at night, she sleeps oh-so-soundly in her bed designed to resemble a Fabergé egg. It’s called the good life, fit for a queen.
Krewe of Barkus
2 p.m. Sunday
Begins at Armstrong Park