In this day and age, it’s not too difficult (especially around these parts) to stumble across animal-loving famous folk — and no, we’re not just talking about pet hoarder of note, Paris Hilton. And then there are those celebs who take it up a notch and own animals not only for love, companionship and accessorizing purposes but for sport as well. And in some cases, purely sport.
Below, you'll find seven celebrities who fall into this category and all own animals, retired or otherwise, that have been trained for competition. Some, like Martha Stewart, partake in one of America’s oldest continuously held sporting events, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, while another is active in one of the country’s most obscure sporting events: homing pigeon racing. Others are associated, and not necessarily in a negative manner, with sporting events considered by many to be inhumane (greyhound racing) or downright barbaric (cockfighting).
Is there a celebrity who owns athlete or “show” animals that we missed? Fill us in by scrolling down to the comments section!
Martha Stewart, high priestess of patterned tablecloths and perfectly roasted chickens, is rarely seen without her canine companions. Heck, the domestic doyenne’s French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharkey, even run their own blog where they dish on pertinent global issues such as antiquing, baking and spring fashions. “Oh Sharkey, I can't wait until the weather really turns spring-like so we can go out wearing all of our new sporty fashions from Martha Stewart Pets at PetSmart!” However, the newest member of Stewart’s canine clan, a 2-year-old chow chow pup named Genghis Khan II or GK for short, has effectively yanked the spotlight away from the chatty Frenchies. The impeccably mannered GK — he’s the great-grandson of Paw Paw, Martha’s beloved chow that passed away in 2008 — won blue ribbon for Best in Breed at the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York in February. Sadly, GK lost his chance of taking a top spot in the Best of Group (non-sporting) category to a dalmatian, a shar-pei, a lowchen and a miniature poodle. You’ll get ‘em next year, big guy.
While it’s not entirely difficult to pin down famous folk who own horses involved with the thoroughbred racing circuit, you have to look a bit harder to find bold face names involved in dressage, an old school — and very expensive — equestrian sport sometimes dubbed as “horse ballet” often favored by wealthy, top hat-wearing society gals. Did somebody mention wealthy ladies? Say hello to Ann Romney, wife of controversial home remodeler Mitt Romney and perhaps one of the most visible dressage aficionados out there. An avid rider who took up dressage at the age of 50 as a form of therapy to help combat symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Romney’s own horse Rafalca recently qualified for the U.S. Olympic dressage team and will compete in the dressage events at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. And to be clear, Romney will not be donning a top hat and straddling a prancing and pirouetting (but not jumping) Oldenburg mare at the Summer Olympics — Romney’s dressage tutor and Rafalca’s co-owner, top equestrian Jan Ebeling, will have those honors. However, you can count on Romney to be in the audience at Greenwich Park during the first week of August … probably minus the foam fingers.
If Martha Stewart ever needs to swap advice on flower arranging and linen folding for tips and tidbits on how to rock the ring at Westminster, she needn’t look any further than Bill Cosby. Like Stewart, Cosby has co-owned a pooch that made big waves at Westminster in the past. Described as a “dachshund and a bigheaded poodle with a bad haircut,” Cosby’s 6-year-old Dandie Dinmont terrier named Harry (full name: Ch Hobergays Fineus Fogg) was, once upon a time, considered the top show dog in the country. Harry, who may or may not have responded best to the call “Hey, Hey, Hey!” took home Best in Breed (to be fair, he was the only Dandy Dinmont in competition) and Best of Group (no small feat) at the 2007 Westminster dog show. Expected to win Best in Show, Harry lost out to an English springer spaniel named Diamond Jim.
Mike Tyson, retired heavyweight boxer, convicted rapist, ear-nibbler and facial tattoo enthusiast (how else could you possibly describe him?), is somewhat of an enigma to say the least. So it makes total sense then that the lispy, oddly endearing train-wreck of a man just happens to be the world’s most prominent pigeon fancier. Tyson’s fondness for the birds started at a young age when he started raising and breeding the much-maligned creatures in his native Brooklyn. It’s even said that the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world threw his first punch at the age of 10 when a neighborhood bully killed one of his beloved birds. In recent years, Tyson has become active in the super-competitive pigeon racing circuit (to be clear, the sport involves specially trained, thoroughbred birds and not your average, garbage-eating street pigeons), a passion documented, much to the chagrin of PETA, in the Animal Planet reality series, “Taking On Tyson.”
Flay is for horses. Or, to be more exact, Flay is for thoroughbred racehorses. Food Network mainstay Bobby Flay has dedicated interests that reach far beyond Southwestern cookery and opening massively hyped restaurants. The New York City-born high school dropout-turned-celebrity chef just happens to be a longtime equine enthusiast who owns some of the country’s top Kentucky-bred racehorses including Super Espresso, Triple Cream, Countess Lemonade and More Than Real, winner of the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. For more Flay-related horseplay, you can watch him call the race at Saratoga or check out a New York Times blog in which he waxes poetic about the Kentucky Oaks. Or you can just salivate over his garlic steak with horseradish sauce recipe. And Flay isn’t alone in his love of the races — past and current racehorse owners of note include Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Desi Arnaz, Merv Griffin, George Steinbrenner, Alex Trebek, Joe Torre, Queen Elizabeth II, Toby Keith and Jenny Craig, yes, that Jenny Craig.
While cockfighting is totally and rightfully illegal across the United States (the last state to ban the practice was Louisiana in 2008), in the Philippines cockfighting, or sabong, is still very much a national pastime, and one of the country’s biggest celebs, championship boxer/actor/singer/politician Manny Pacquiao, is active in the gruesome blood sport. Well, active until recently. In February 2012, Pacquiao announced that he planned to give up cockfighting and sell his 1,000 roosters so that he could transition into his role as a goodwill ambassador for the Catholic Church. And that’s not all … Pacquiao told the media, “I am no longer in the vice business. I've sold my shares in a big nightclub along with my shares in a Manila casino outlet.” Pacquiao cited eternal damnation as the reason for parting ways with the cocks and the casinos: “I realize I was a weak person before. If I had died I believe my soul would have ended in hell. I had faith, but I was doing things which were against the will of God."
To be clear, the man behind industrial rock staples such as “Head Like a Hole,” “Happiness in Slavery” and the most inappropriate first-dance wedding song of all time, “Closer,” is an owner of retired greyhounds and not an owner of animals actively involved in the controversial, gambling-based sport of greyhound racing. In fact, it’s pretty tough to find any famous folk involved in greyhound racing aside from brawl-prone retired footballer and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” actor Vinnie Jones (Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Veronica Lake and Jack Dempsey are all notable names of yesteryear reported to have owned racing dogs). But back to Reznor. As one of the more visible celebrities supporting greyhound rescue and adoption, in 2011 Reznor put rare collectibles from his longtime musical project, Nine Inch Nails, up for auction on eBay with proceeds benefiting Greyhound Rescue and California Greyhound Adoption Promotion. In addition to Reznor, other retired greyhound owners include J.K. Rowling, Bo Derek and, of course, Bart Simpson.