In the early days of television, sad stories could lead to a royal crown and robes, plus the title “Queen for a Day.”
It’s still that way in New Orleans, where a dog with a background that can make grown-ups weep has been chosen queen of the nonprofit Mystic Krewe of Barkus annually since its founding 24 years ago.
A new queen — and a king, whose backstory this year also can induce tears — will join the royal lineup of the French Quarter parade at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31: “Barkus 2016: The Dog House Meets the White House.” Costume possibilities are endless.
All hail King Alex Lundeen and Queen Nee-Nee Sprang!
The rescue of King Alex
Trying her best to contain the exuberant King Alex, Diane Lundeen hugged the Weimaraner last week in the waiting room in the nonprofit Southern Animal Foundation’s veterinary clinic and adoption center at 1823 Magazine St.
She told his story, about how a volunteer at Vermilion Parish Animal Control had posted a photo of Alex after he was found chained in a yard in October 2014. He weighed a skeletal 42 pounds; his ribs were visible through his blue-gray coat; he had heartworms.
Southern Animal’s Elizabeth Sprang saw the picture and had him brought to New Orleans, where veterinarians discovered “his stomach was full of rocks and twigs.” That apparently was all he could find to eat while tethered. He underwent two surgeries, nearly dying during one.
Four friends from four different parts of her life told Lundeen about Alex, now about 8. “He might be a little shy,” someone said. Shy is a euphemism used to describe dogs that come from abusive homes and puppy mills; it means they’re scared.
“He was so timid, but he had this glimmer of hope in his eyes when he looked at me,” said Lundeen, 48. “I reached out to touch him, and he put his head on my shoulder, and I hugged him and said, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ ”
A supporter of Weimaraner Rescue of the South, Lundeen took him home to join her other two “Weims,” Anya and Otto.
Alex gained 10 pounds his first week.
But even after a year with Lundeen, Alex still is nervous and gets anxious about going into her backyard. The other dogs help, said Lundeen, a state workers compensation judge, who also owns Petcetera pet boutique. “Even when they get to a safe place, it’s hard for these dogs to leave their background behind, similar to abused children.”
“Alex the Weimaraner” now has his own Facebook page. He weighs 80 pounds, and is beyond strong. When Lundeen needed to speak to someone in another room, she handed his star-covered red, white and blue leash to a woman who has a 10-pound survivor of a puppy mill. Within seconds, the other woman was halfway across the room, on her knees, and Alex was panting for his human.
Lundeen looked at the scene as if she’d seen it before. She said, “Really, though, I can tell he was very well-trained. My fantasy is that when he was young, someone spent time with him and loved him.” She hugged Alex again. “I’m always covered in dog spit,” she said, laughing.
Meet Queen Nee-Nee
Sprang, daughter of Southern Animal’s founder/director Anne Bell, is surrounded at work by dogs who need forever homes. She and fellow assistant director Deanna Theis often rescue the most desperate cases from kill shelters, as do those in other no-kill facilities.
“I pick ones nobody will take and ones I connect with,” said Sprang, 43. Barkus Queen Nee-Nee fit both criteria.
Then named Peanut, the 10-year-old long-haired chihuahua’s left front leg was broken.
“Neighbors said they saw kids drop-kicking her like she was a football,” Sprang said. “They could hear her crying.” After the neighbors complained, the owner dropped off the six-pound dog without explanation at the Vermilion Parish Animal Control; there is no shelter in the parish.
“The minute they handed her to me, and I looked into her little eyes, I knew that I couldn’t turn her over to anyone else,” said Sprang, whose husband, Curt, a WGNO-TV anchor, agreed. After Nee-Nee’s leg was amputated by Dr. Bob Hancock in Mandeville, she joined the Sprang’s North Shore menagerie of five dogs and seven cats.
Nee-Nee slid and slipped for a few weeks, learning to walk on three legs, but soon became an easy, happy dog, Sprang said.
Nee-Nee races in circles, moving her mouth and making high-pitched noises. “She rules the house,” said Sprang. “Look, you can hear her talk,” she said, beaming like the proud parent she is.
Crowns and gowns
This weekend, Queen Nee-Nee and King Alex will cover their usual au natural state and be gussied up with crowns and robes and costumes for their media lunch Friday at Galatoire’s, a coronation ball Friday at 6 p.m. at the Windsor Court Hotel and the Sunday parade.
They will have separate floats — canine kings and queens don’t always reign well with others — in the parade, which includes as many as 1,200 dogs, usually dressed in an array of outrageous outfits.
Pre-Pawty events begin in Armstrong Park at 10:30 a.m., and the parade begins there at 2 p.m. before rolling and trotting through the French Quarter.
Donations begin at $50 for a mutt/pedigree and one human escort to be in the parade, which is sponsored by the non-profit Wood Enterprise, with proceeds going to animal welfare groups and pet adoptions in and around New Orleans and the Gulf South. Details at barkus.org.