It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that rabbits started Dru Shepherd’s journey with Afghan Hounds. And since then, she’s gone from dog sports to show rings to various stages. Her Afghan Hounds, “Cinder” CH Ledgehills Heartease of Lilac Lane CA and “Pansy” GCCH Aquas Candle in the Wind at Lilacln CAA, may be excelling in the show ring and in dog sports, but they’ve also taken their talents a step further. They’ve appeared in ads, TV shows, photoshoots, and most recently, an opera at Lincoln Center. But Shepherd wasn’t always involved with the breed – first, she was showing rabbits.
From Show Rabbits to Conformation Afghans
In the early 1990s, Shepherd’s daughter, Justine, wanted a show rabbit for 4-H. Shepherd also became hooked on showing rabbits, which she continues to do today. Shepherd’s family had previously owned dogs, including mixed breeds and Lhasa Apsos. So when the Toms River, New Jersey resident decided to look for a dog, she reached out to fellow rabbit show enthusiast Mackenzie Telcovitch. Telcovitch owned Afghan Hounds, a breed Shepherd had already admired for years.
Telcovitch connected Shepherd with breeder Kelly Fitch in Monroe, Connecticut. “It just happened that I was going to a rabbit show in Connecticut the next weekend and was able to meet her and see the puppies. I brought Pansy home that weekend,” Shepherd says.
Starting Off Strong in the Ring
Shepherd and Pansy began their partnership in the ring on a successful note, winning Best of Opposite Sex at the 2018 Devon Dog Show in Ludwigs Corner, Pennsylvania. Shepherd owns another Afghan, Cinder, bred by Sharon Ferraro of Montauk, New York. Both dogs were shown in breed competition at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2023, where Fitch handled Pansy and Shepherd handled Cinder. “It was an amazing experience,” Shepherd says.
In addition to competing in Conformation, Pansy and Cinder visit residents of local independent-living facilities. Cinder’s favorite activity is Coursing, and she’s earned a Coursing Ability Advanced (CAA) title. Pansy is also well on her way, earning a Coursing Ability (CA) title. Both have been clocked at approximate speeds of 29 miles per hour.
Polished Performers on Many Stages
Pansy and Cinder have also shown their talents in other ways. Pansy made a cameo in a rap video with James McAvoy, Pete Davidson, and Meek Mill for “Saturday Night Live.” She has also appeared in advertising spots for Wild One pet products and in promo photos with Canadian singer Daniel Caesar. Shepherd explains that many clients like the light color of Pansy’s blue-and-cream coat.
Not to be outdone, Cinder has participated in photoshoots for fashion labels Alexander Wang and Badgley Mischka. Both dogs have also represented their breed at the AKC Meet the Breeds extravaganza in New York City.
Dog Stars in the Opera
But Cinder and Pansy’s biggest performance to date came in spring 2023. In February, animal talent agency All Tame Animals contacted Shepherd with an opportunity for her dogs to appear in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Der Rosenkavalier.” Cinder and Pansy would join three other dogs: two Borzois and a Shetland Sheepdog.
“It was a fascinating experience,” says Shepherd. “Usually dogs are handled by show talent, so I didn’t realize originally that I would be going on stage with them dressed as a German man. That certainly helped establish their comfort zone. The cast members loved the dogs, and both seemed to soak up all the attention they were given during the four rehearsals and seven performances.”
Never Breaking Character
Each performance night followed roughly the same schedule. Shepherd arrived at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. She headed backstage with the dogs, bringing their crates, pads, snacks, collars, and water. Next, the dogs went out for a pre-show walk and potty break before resting in their crates while Shepherd got into her costume. As the time to go onstage grew closer, the dogs were put in their own costumes: special ribbon collars and leather leashes to reflect the opera’s setting, 18th-century Vienna. Shepherd made sure she had treats in her pockets. When Shepherd heard the call “Dogs and handlers to the stage!” the trio would make their way under the lights.
In their scene, the dogs were accompanied by multiple groups of people singing, dancing, and moving furniture and props. All of this took place before audiences of 4,000 people. “There were lots of distractions, but both girls enjoyed every minute of it,” Shepherd says, “especially the treats they received while waiting backstage.”
Being from southern New Jersey, Shepherd had to take day trips into NYC 11 times for these performances, which she says was a big commitment. “But it was an experience of a lifetime.”