Steve Dale

Celebrity Canines Star at Westminster

When Josh walks down the street, the public pays attention as they might to any star athlete. Except there are a few notable differences between Josh and most star athletes. For one thing, the public likes Josh. For another, Josh is a dog. Josh is the Newfoundland who won the Westminster Kennel Club last year.

When Josh appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman," Dave offered a Top-Ten List of perks for winning Westminster, which included, "He’s been invited to the White House to drink out of the toilet."

Josh, who’s show dog name is Champion (Ch.) Darbydale's All Rise Pouchcove was on "Good Morning America," "Inside Edition," and every network and major cable newscast. His face was on the front pages of newspapers around the country the day after winning the world’s most notable dog show. The dog was awarded celebrity superstar treatment when his hometown of Flemington, NJ named "Josh Day" in his honor, and he was presented with a bone to the city.

"When I walk down the street with Josh, people call his name; our top dogs have become celebrities," says David Frei, perennial TV voice for Westminster for 15 years, as well as their director of communications.

Certainly the 155-lb. canine is America’s most huggable athlete. Frei, who himself comes from the world of athletics – working in the public relations department for the San Francisco 49ers and for ABC Sports – notes, "I think people have grown tired, even distrustful of pro athletes. I mean, look at Josh; look into those eyes. One thing for sure, you’ve gotta to trust him."

Frei – who also handles broadcast chores for the National Dog Show in Philadelphia – has himself become pretty famous, linked as much to broadcasting dog shows as Jim McKay was to the Olympics in 1970’s, or Joe Garagiola was to baseball broadcasts. In fact, Garagiola was Frei’s Westminster broadcast partner for nine years.

"There’s no question, David knows his stuff and yet he still does his homework," says Garagiola. "Of course, that’s how he makes it seem so easy. He’s prepared, as well prepared as anyone I’ve ever worked with."

Frei himself once showed dogs, Afghans in the early 1970’s. While Frei never won Westminster, he turned out to be a persistent and dogged competitor in the show ring. Champion (Ch.) Stormhill’s Who’s Zoomin Who was the number one Afghan in 1989. Ten years later, Ch. Calais Sunrise at Stormhill won the Afghan Hound Club of America Specialty.

Today, his breed of choice is the Brittany, and both he and his wife Cherilyn are involved in animal assisted therapy. Both their dogs, Teigh and Belle, are certified by the Delta Society, where David is a Board Member.

One facility David goes to with the dogs to is Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. True animal assisted therapy is goal directed therapy with a therapeutic goal offered by a medical professional. Perhaps the goal for a stroke or gun shot victim is to grasp and then to toss a tennis ball. It’s fun, and doesn’t seem like therapy. "That’s why it works," says Frei. "Of course, the dogs aren’t judgmental about the person, or why the person is there, or that the person may be in a wheelchair."

Last year, a commemorative poster sold at Westminster raised $50,000 for the Animal Medical Center in New York. This year’s poster proceeds will help a canine therapy dog program at Children Hospital in New York.

For the first time, Westminster is teaming with DreamWorks Animation (the same folks who make motion pictures like "Shrek" and "Meet the Fockers") to stream video on the Westminster website (www.westmisnterkennelclub.org) of breed competition highlights for all 165 breeds. The breed competition is held during the day, before the live evening TV broadcasts.

"Unless you were at the Garden (Madison Square Garden), there’s no chance to see the dogs within the breeds – all the Brittany’s or all the golden retrievers, for example. Now, you can follow favorite dogs, and see how they get to compete in the Group competition (which is seen on live TV)," Frei says.

This the first time in their 129-year history Westminster has accepted sponsorship from a company that doesn’t make dog food, although, a dog will be involved. The streaming video will be hosted by Gromit, the canine half of the clay animated duo Wallace & Gromit. (DreamWorks is promoting a Wallace and Gromit movie due to open in October).

Since clay dogs aren’t allowed to enter the Westminster competition, Gromit won’t be eligible. But 2,500 Champion dogs will be. Frei says among the most favored dogs to win Best in Show include a Pekingese named Ch. Yakee If Only or a toy poodle, Ch. North Well Chako JP Platina King. As of this writing, both dogs are ranked number one and two in the nation. An underdog, of sorts, is Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre. Frei explains, "This Norfolk terrier was the number one dog in the country last year, and just haven’t been out there a lot this year. But no one would be surprised to see this dog (Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre) take it all."

No matter who wins, that dog better be ready to be celebrity.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is on USA Network, Monday and Tuesday (February 14 and 15) 8 p.m. ET.

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