Arts & Culture
12:46 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Meet Guinevere, Fundraiser Extraordinaire

Many people dress up their kids-and animals-for Halloween.  But one Southwest Virginia dog wears her “costume” all year round.

Beverly Amsler introduces us to Guinevere.

When you meet Guinevere the Poodle, she doesn’t bark or jump up.  Rather, the elderly canine waits for you to go to her.  

She’s lying on the floor of her owner, Jenna Billington’s grooming salon, Classy Pets, in Salem.  Guinevere was a bit apprehensive, afraid she’d be getting another bath.  She had had one earlier in the day in anticipation of my visit. She’s a white Standard Poodle with cotton-candy stripes and a plume of pink on top of her head.  

“Actually she was cotton candy one year for Halloween.”

It’s her zebra look.  “We were coloring her for Woofstock and we were running out of ideas so we decided zebra.”  

Guinevere sports different colors and logos on her body all year long when making guest appearances at various charity events around the Roanoke Valley.  

“She’s done a lot of things local.  She’s raised a lot of money.  She’s made a lot of people very happy, especially breast cancer survivors.”

And that was even before she became famous as the pink poodle in a New York fashion show.  

It all began about 11 years ago when Billington ran into a poodle breeder at an area pet store.  The woman had a litter of pups for sale.

“And so it was a slow day and I went over there and what did I come home with was Guinevere.  And she was a litter of nine.  They were all white.”

But she didn’t stay white for long.

“She was a couple of years old and I always wanted to just have a pink dog.  So I just messed around and I dyed her this fuchsia pink and it was right before Christmas.  And I walked out of Pet Smart with her and they were literally almost people rear ending each other because they could not believe what they just saw.  And then I took her to a Christmas parade and the people in the parade were more into my dog than the people who were looking at the parade, watching it.”

And that was just the beginning.

“She’s got really good hair for any patterns.  I’ve air brushed her different colors for whatever fundraising we were doing at the time.  I’d put logos on her and stuff.  And that always would help people to get excited about whatever we were fundraising for.  You can ask, ‘Can you give to our team for breast cancer?’ but when you have a pink dog they get a little more excited about donating it.  So they’re a little more free with the money.”

“One time we were fundraising and she was still pink and it was Easter.  We put little bunny rabbit ears on her and we sat out in front of the car wash in Salem.  And there was almost a couple of rear endings but a lot of people came in just to say hi to her and then donate who wouldn’t have ordinarily stopped.”

Billington says Guinevere doesn’t mind getting gussied up.  In fact, she likes the extra attention she gets from people who gush over her appearance.

One day two years ago, Billington received an email from fashion designer Isaac Misrahi’s PR people asking her to dye poodles to match the models’ clothing in an upcoming fashion show.  But she declined, saying they would probably prefer someone closer to Manhattan.  

“And then two days later they emailed me again and said, ‘Can we borrow your dog?’ and I said ‘Absolutely.’  And I told them if ever there was a dog to walk a runway, this was it.  This is your dog.”    

And a star was born.  

“If you see the video of her, she was owning it.  She was strutting that runway and she was looking from side to side.  It was really funny.”

Within a matter of hours, the internet was abuzz with pictures of the un-named “pink poodle”.

 “All these places that had these pictures and pictures I didn’t even know people took.”
 “She was also in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Women’s World, and then she was on Project Runway All Stars, the Today Show and Cake Boss.”

And in true New York style, the paparazzi were everywhere.  Billington says they even took pictures of Guinevere in Central Park, where she went to do her business.

And if you’re wondering about the dyeing process, Billington says it doesn’t hurt the dog.

 “It’s just pigment.  It’s not anything that will hurt her skin.  And sometimes I do use people hair dye products but they do make them specifically for dogs, too.”

But at 11 years old, Billington says Guinevere is happy to “hide out” in semi-retirement in Southwest Virginia.  But she still occasionally gets dyed for special fundraising events.  And why did Billington pick the name Guinevere? She says, because she looks like one.