Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Catsino Night In Baltimore

The principality of Monaco occupies less than one square mile of land, yet boasts the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world.  Its tiny harbor on the French Riviera is filled with magnificent yachts; its streets are lined with luxury cars, and only the most stylishly dressed fashionistas are allowed past the intimidating bouncers into the hallowed inner sanctum of the famed Monte Carlo casino.  

I channeled the legendary Place du Casino as I dressed for an exciting evening of high-stakes (faux) gambling to benefit the homeless cats and kittens of the Baltimore Humane Society.  But instead of jetting into Nice, France, I drove into Baltimore City, Maryland, and handed my less than luxurious Honda over to the valet at Mt. Washington Tavern.  Inside, a dear friend, Jan Korotki, from whom I bought my beloved horse, Chubby, ten years ago, had turned the entire upper level of the historic Baltimore establishment into a veritable gambling mecca, with black jack, roulette and craps tables buzzing with action while a congenial wait staff offered platters of plump shrimp and other appetizers.

Jan, along with her husband Harry, serve on the board of directors of the Baltimore Humane Society.  In the spring, the BHS board organizes a sumptuous ball to raise money for the canine residents of the shelter; autumn is the season for homeless felines to have their fundraising turn.

Jan had warned me that it would be warm inside the tavern with a crush of gamblers at an upstairs venue.  So despite the autumn chill, I dressed lightly, choosing billowing sufi pants in a chocolate satin stripe by Renaissance costumer Moresca and a tank top by Anne Klein covered in coffee-colored sequins.  I covered my bare arms only slightly with a sheer stole embellished with beads and more sequins, and cinched the whole thing up with a brocade leather belt from Chico's.  After all, the average temperature all year in Monaco is a balmy 65 degrees. I gave a nod to the crisp east coast weather only in my brown suede boots by Wendi from Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), and in a leopard print jacket from Fabulous Furs that I shed the moment I walked in the tavern door.

Elsie Seeger Barton
founded the Baltimore
Humane Society in 1927
The Baltimore Humane Society was founded by a compassionate socialite named Elsie Seeger Barton who, in exchange for the near constant companionship of her beloved pets during a long convalescence from Rheumatic Fever in 1902, devoted the rest of her life to the care and humane treatment of abandoned companion animals. As a young adult, Miss Seeger established a refuge for abused and homeless animals on her family's estate in Pikesville, Maryland, which became incorporated as the Baltimore Humane Society in 1927.  Along with her husband, Bolling Walker Barton, Jr., President of Barton, Duet & Koch Paper Company, whom she married in 1908, Mrs. Barton built a state-of-the-art animal refuge on 23 acres in nearby Owings Mills in 1936 which contracted with the county of Baltimore to provide animal control services in addition to a veterinary clinic, adoption services, a library and educational programs.  In 1951 the facility was slated for demolition when a new freeway was planned, so Mrs. Barton purchased 400 acres of rolling hills, farmland and woods in neighboring Reisterstown, its current location, which is just north of my own little burg in Baltimore County. The shelter operates on 22 acres of the property, with the remainder left to serve as a wildlife sanctuary.

In the 1970s, costs associated with operating Baltimore County’s “stray” department, as it was known in those days, had become overwhelming; so Mrs. Barton ended her contract with the county and, in 1974, BHS became an independent organization.  It receives no operational funding from the county now and is solely reliant upon private donations from the community.

In 2008 the Baltimore Humane Society became a no-kill shelter which works closely with other animal welfare organizations, shelters, and rescues to save as many lives as possible. Today, BHS continues the legacy of Mrs. Barton by caring for thousands of wonderful animals every year. They operate a low-cost spay/neuter clinic and pet wellness facility on the premises, as well as a pet bereavement center and cemetery. Over 340 acres remain an undeveloped woodland preserve for area wildlife. I was more than happy to support this worthy cause.

I still had lots of chips at the end of the evening
With a glass of wine in hand, I sampled the edible offerings at a long buffet table: seared ahi tuna, roasted red pepper bruschetta, Marsala-marinara meatballs, beef Carpaccio, buttermilk chicken bites, and a dessert bar that was out of this world.  Then I took the third base position at a Blackjack table where a young woman from New Mexico masterfully dealt hands from a Plexiglas “shoe”.  I had been awarded 10,000 faux dollars in gaming chips in exchange for my purchase of a ticket to the event, so I cheerfully placed a bet and took a peek at my cards.  

I lived for a few years in Reno in the 1990s, and while I did not frequent Nevada casinos while a resident, I have been fairly well-versed in the game of Blackjack for several decades.  With lively music and the revelry of an enthusiastic crowd on Saturday night, it was as if I was playing cards in an actual casino.  I held my own for a long time, and when the hour grew late, I cheerfully handed my remaining stacks of chips to another player, radio personality Johnny Doswell (aka Porkchop) of Baltimore’s most popular hip-hop station, 92Q, who was Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

All in all, Jan reported that the Catsino Night gala was a huge success, doubling the number of attendees over last year.  She and Harry work tirelessly to raise money for cats in need of loving forever homes at the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, Maryland.  More than 180 people found it in their hearts to buy a ticket to a terrific evening of fun, food and faux gaming and, in doing so, helped generate much-needed funds to support the ongoing operation of this valuable resource for homeless animals in our area.  You can make a donation, too, if you like, by clicking on Donate.  

Despite a lack of bouncers to signal approval of my attire, a weekend at the fabled Monte Carlo could not hold a candle to my wonderful evening for a cause at Catsino!

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