In what has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition, 1,500 canines will compete for $20,000 and barking rights at "The National Dog Show Presented by Purina," which airs on Nov. 28 at noon on NBC, with an encore presentation at 8 p.m. EST on Nov. 30.
“Three new breeds this year gives us a total of 190 breeds and varieties,” says David Frei, the show’s co-host and analyst. “In the working group, there’s the Chinook, a sled dog and the state dog of New Hampshire, the rat terrier — it has that name because its original function was as a ratter on the farm — and a hound, the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, a hunting dog.”
“With 175-plus breeds, it gives the country the chance to see breeds they don’t normally see, and the people who are there get to see the dogs up close and talk to the owners,” says co-host John O’Hurley. “If you’re looking for a dog, it’s the best place to go because you learn so much. There’s a wonderful carnival atmosphere backstage and something for everybody back there. We have vendors and so many wonderful education programs, both from the standpoint of nutrition, from exercise, and for just health and wellness.”
David Frei (left) and John O'Hurley co-host the National Dog Show on NBC.
The canine competitors and their handlers descend on Philadelphia for the event, some in RVs, but as Frei notes, “a lot of area hotels make special exceptions to their rules to accommodate the dogs. But people always crate their dogs in hotel rooms and bring their own food.”
For the last five years, therapy dogs have been a part of the program, and this year a mixed terrier breed named Vivian is among them — a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School’s therapy team. “They take dogs around the different healthcare facilities. We’re honored to have her be part of what we do,” says Frei, who founded the nonprofit Angel on a Leash in 2004, taking dogs to visit patients at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House in New York City, and also where his wife works as chaplain and director of family support. “It grew so quickly. Now we create and administer therapy dog programs in healthcare facilities all over the country, and we’re very excited about the great work that our dogs do in all these places.”
Frei wrote about his experiences with therapy dogs in a 2011 book, also called “Angel on a Leash,” a follow up to 2002’s “The Angel By My Side,” about a life-saving service dog. O’Hurley is also an author of books with a canine theme. “My first book was called ‘It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump (And the Other Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Dogs).’ Dogs truly teach us extraordinary life lessons, if we’re quiet enough to observe them; that there are great messages there for everybody to absorb.” His second book, written in his late pet Maltese’s voice, “is a letter to my son and lessons on manhood.” His just-published third is “Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog to a Young Boy," which he sums up as “about the idea of the perfect dog — not the Best in Show, but the one home sitting next to your on the couch.”
That’s something both men emphasize as hosts of the National Dog Show. “It’s a celebration of the dogs in our lives,” says Frei. “We hope that the joy that John and I have from our own dogs and from being involved in the show comes across for everybody.”
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