February 12, 2011

Westminster dog show

"A lot of people at home," says David Frei, "probably think the dogs at Westminster spend their time lounging on satin pillows and eating doggie bon bons."

But the approximately 2,500 purebred dogs that will be competing in the 135th annual Westminster Kennel Club show tomorrow and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden harbor a secret, says Frei. They really aren't much different from the 10 or 20 dogs the average New Yorker passes every day on the street and in the neighborhood.

"The public sees that dog so disciplined in the show ring," says Frei, who for the 22nd year will narrate the show on USA and CNBC. "What they don't see is that same dog outside rolling in the mud, or drooling, or shedding on your black pants.

"That's the real point we try to make on the telecast that these may be champion dogs, but they're still dogs. They're pets, they're members of families."

Okay, it's also true that the Lab or the mixed breed next door won't be on national television competing for the most prestigious prize in the dog-show world best in show at Westminster (8-9 p.m. tomorrow on USA, 9-11 p.m. tomorrow on CNBC and 8-11 p.m. Tuesday on USA).

All the competitors at Westminster have earned the "champion" designation from competing in other shows, and of the top 50 show dogs in the country last year, 46 will be competing here.

But even the owners, says Frei, aren't just a bon bon crowd. "You can be standing at the show ring and the man or woman next to you may be a professor at Columbia or a nuclear physicist who just happens to really like Brittany spaniels."

Dogs. The great leveler.

"When you're watching a basketball game, you know you could never go out there and have a dunking contest with Kobe," says Frei. "But when you watch Westminster, you can look at the dog sitting next to you on the couch and say, ‘You know, if we just cut back on the dog cookies, got you a little training and did some road work, that could be you out there.' "

That perk hit a crescendo three years ago when a beagle named Uno swept through the show like Sherman through Georgia.

"Uno was the most charismatic winner we ever had," says Frei. "Probably in the history of the show. People just loved that dog. He was in the Macy's parade, he went to the White House, he threw out the first pitch at baseball games. He was America's dog."

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