Andy Cohen grew up in Clayton in a pet-free home.
“I never had a pet — ever,” Cohen says, “and I’m 45 years old.”
But in October, the Bravo host became a dad to Wacha, a 40-pound mixed-breed rescue dog, and his life changed very much for the better. That’s why the timing was perfect for Cohen to come home to St. Louis and act as grand marshal for Sunday’s Beggin’ Pet Parade, part of the annual Soulard Mardi Gras festivities.
“I’m excited they invited me,” Cohen says. “I’m so into dogs right now, and the proceeds go to a shelter.” (The $10 registration fee benefits Open Door Animal Sanctuary.)
Ask Cohen about Wacha, named for Cardinals pitching phenom Michael Wacha, and he’s happy to share the dramatic story of how the two became a pair.
“I’d been thinking a while that it was time to get a dog,” he said last week from his office in New York, where he is developing shows for Bravo under a new production deal while also continuing to host “Watch What Happens: Live” at 10 p.m. Central Sunday-Thursday. “I wanted something to take care of.”
Cohen says he waffled because “I knew it would change my life, and I kept asking myself, are you sure?”
But after years of an unpredictable schedule, including a decade when he traveled almost constantly for CBS News, Cohen says his life now is more regular. His live talk show keeps him in New York at least five nights a week.
He dipped his toe into dog ownership, knowing he wanted a rescue. “There are so many great dogs out there looking for homes,” he says.
Beth Stern, the animal activist and wife of Howard Stern, hooked him up with the North Shore Animal League, “and I was working with them, but I was also looking online, just dog browsing.”
One night, very late, he was struck by a picture.
“I saw this dog on Petfinder.com, and he was looking at me,” Cohen says. “I’m a big fan of Snoopy, and I’d kind of wanted a beagle, and this dog was a beagle mix. He just struck me. I couldn’t stop looking at him.”
Like someone venturing into online dating, he was anxious.
“I immediately sent an email. Then I emailed again. The next morning, I told my assistant, ‘Find me this dog.’”
The pooch, Cohen learned, had been in a kill shelter in West Virginia. “A group got him out, and he was in a foster home in West Virginia,” he says, “but he was about to be brought up to New York.”
When they met, though, Cohen developed cold feet.
“I met with him, and it pinged every commitment issue I have,” he says. “He was bigger than I thought he would be; he weighs about 40 pounds. He just seemed to be way more dog than I was prepared for.”
Cohen talked the rescuers into letting him have the dog on a trial basis. At home, though, he was quickly won over when his new roommate fetched his leash, indicating that he wanted to go out.
“He was trying so hard,” he says. “At that point I knew, you are mine.”
The only question that remained was what his name would be.
“The first night I brought him home was Game 6 of the NLCS, when we clinched and the Cardinals were going to the World Series,” Cohen says. “Wacha was pitching, and the crowd was yelling ‘Wacha, Wacha, Wacha.’ All day I’d been looking at him and thinking, what am I going to call you? Wacha was just right. It seemed very of-the-moment, but also a real dog name.”
The Wachster, he says, is a wonderful dog. “Somebody at some point crate-trained him. He has the perfect temperament. He’s lovely and lovable. We are in love.”
From a cage on death row, Wacha now lives a charmed life in New York City.
“I got my dog walker from Sarah Jessica Parker,” says Cohen, who’s been close friends with the actress for many years. “Wacha’s doggy companions are her dog, Kissy Broderick, and Neville Jacobs, who belongs to (fashion designer) Marc Jacobs. From a shelter in West Virginia, now he’s prancing around in Central Park with fancy dogs.”
Andy Cohen answered a few more questions, in the style of those he asks his guests on “Watch What Happens: Live”:
You know the Pet Parade features dressed-up animals. What’s your position on dressing up dogs? People love to dress up their dogs, and why not? Wacha (who will not attend the parade on Sunday) doesn’t have clothes. Well, when it’s really cold, he does have a down jacket. And a windbreaker for when it rains.
One of your dog friends before Wacha was Giggy the Pom (the constant companion of Lisa Vanderpump of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”). Giggy does always wear clothes. Well, Giggy has alopecia (which causes hair loss), so I think that’s a good reason to dress him.
Have you ever been to Mardi Gras, in New Orleans or St. Louis? No, but I’ve been wanting to go, especially in St. Louis, because I’ve heard it’s the second-biggest in the country.
On “Watch What Happens: Live,” you and your guests do shotskis (three shots in glasses affixed to a ski). What’s the appropriate shotski for the Pet Parade? It’s probably going to be cold, so I guess something involving whiskey.
And which two St. Louisans would you like to do shotskis with? Michael Wacha, of course. And I guess Nelly. Nelly or my cousin Josh.
Another bit on your show is naming a Mazel (good) and Jackhole (bad). Can you give us an animal edition? OK, the Mazel is Wacha; he’s my Mazel every day, because he makes me smile. Jackhole — pet owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. That’s just rude!
You have officiated at weddings, and you once married a cat and dog on your show. If someone asked you to conduct a wedding during the Pet Parade, would you do it? Unfortunately, I’m only authorized to conduct weddings in New York, so it wouldn’t be legal.
What have you done on “WWHL” that has upset your mother (Evelyn Cohen of Clayton) the most? Oh, I horrify her constantly. She doesn’t love some of the language, and the innuendo. But with all respect, I’m not doing a show for my mom.
Let’s play Plead the Fifth. Who was your favorite guest? It would have to be Cher. Or Oprah. Cher and Oprah. I can’t even believe I had Cher and Oprah as guests.
What guest wouldn’t you want back? I’ll have to plead the fifth.
What game do you ask guests to play that you’d least like to play yourself? Probably when we make a guy take his shirt off and throw drinks at him or something. But maybe soon I wouldn’t mind taking my shirt off. I’m on a campaign to get really fit. I changed my diet and didn’t drink for a month, and I’m working hard with my trainer. Plus, I get fresh air four times a day now that I have a dog to walk.
What Beggin’ Pet Parade with grand marshal Andy Cohen • When Registration at 10 a.m. Sunday; parade at 1 p.m. Sunday • Where Menard Street at Allen Avenue, south to Russell Boulevard, east to Ninth Street, north to Lafayette Avenue, east to Eighth Street • How much Free • More info beggin.com/petparade
What Barenaked Ladies • When 2:30 p.m. Sunday • Where Ninth Street and Lafayette Avenue, Soulard • How much Free • More info mardigrasinc.com