Forget the Westminster Dog Show and that smug little miniature poodle that’s sashayed its way to two Best in Show titles. Sure, the Westminster canines exhibit a dazzling display of breeding, temperament and obedience (not to mention a healthy well-groomed coat), but would any of these couture-clueless curs have the slightest idea what to wear, say, to a spring tea, lunch at the yacht club, or a romantic rendezvous with the Great Dane up the street?

I think not.

Participants in last week’s Smooches and Pooches benefit fashion show in Chapel Hill displayed far more savvy. At the show, sponsored by the Animal Protection Society of Orange County, locals got a chance to contribute to a fund for a new animal adoption center and ooh and aahhh over the latest in doggie formal wear.

Models–canine and human–strolled through a latticework façade of a doghouse decorated for Valentine’s Day. The dogs were decked out in formal wear courtesy of Pet a Portet, while the human models wore outfits ranging from a Pucci-inspired pantsuit, to Diesel jeans draped on greyhound-thin young ladies.

Human and beast alike strolled down the red carpet (actually red Astroturf or some similarly dog-mess-resistant material), while event-goers sipped wine and enjoyed the droll commentary of the emcee. Only one dog left its calling card on the carpet. Cleanup was swift and discreet.

The biggest raves went to Bitsy (a demure Shi Tzu) wearing “The Hibiscus”–which, with its “butter satin bow” and crinoline skirt, would be perfect for an afternoon tea–and Bailey (a black poodle) sporting “The Admiral,” complete with gold piping and buttons.

The event raised $2,000 toward the APS’ building campaign for a new adoption center located out at the Felicite Latane Animal Sanctuary. The center, which will open within a year, will be a “no-kill” facility, says APS’ interim Executive Director Laura Walters–meaning animals that aren’t adopted at the Chapel Hill shelter will be sent there rather than being euthanized. With a 40 percent adoption rate in 2001–the highest in the state–the existing shelter placed nearly 2,100 abandoned or unwanted pets into carefully screened homes last year.

Add to that list a 1-year-old pit bull named Chance, who strolled down the runway au naturel at the Smooches show to the announcement that he’d just found an owner. Two other homeless pets, a female beagle and a large terrier mix were also strutting their stuff to impress prospective adopters.

Their situation was a far cry from that of the more pampered pooches who took to the runway that day. As the saying goes, charity begins at home–or, in this case, the doghouse.

For more information, call Elizabeth Cox at the APS, (919) 942-9097.