STORY WRITTEN BY GARY PULEO
@MustangMan48 on Twitter
Let the tail wagging begin.
As the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks prepares to welcome The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s annual all-breed dog shows on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20, and the Centre Theater in Norristown stages the whimsical “The Perfect Dog” on Nov. 11 and 12 , it’s easy to heed the unspoken commands of “sit” and “stay” for two of National Dog Show Month’s most dog-hearted offerings.
Further proving that the Centre Theater is all about puttin’ on the dog this month, the Saturday performance will be highlighted by adoptable dogs from Mostly Muttz. You can hobnob with all the pooches in need of forever homes beginning at 2 p.m. before the show starts an hour later.
The centerpiece of November’s canine mania is of course, the wet-nosed invasion at the Expo Center.
As always, the show will air nationally on Thanksgiving Day as The National Dog Show presented by Purina.
While most of our furry companions are happy with a tummy rub and a few table scraps, the nearly 200 breeds who will descend on Oaks are aiming for far bigger rewards, such as the chance to be selected Best of Breed before thousands of Expo Center visitors and another 25 million who tune in to watch the 15th Annual National Dog Show on Nov. 24 on NBC, noon to 2 p.m.
Expert analyst and AKC-licensed judge David Frei, who co-hosts The National Dog Show with actor and author John O’ Hurley — who happened to pen the best-selling book that inspired the Centre Theater musical presented by B Sharp Productions — pointed out that folks will be watching the Thanksgiving Day staple for reasons that go beyond a universal love of man’s best friend.
“People tune into it to see the almost 200 or so breeds and varieties, so there is a little entertainment going on there. They like to see the competition and want to see who’s going to win,” he said.
But more than anxiously standing by to see which breed will follow in the paw steps of last year’s top dog Charlie, a winsome Skye terrier, a lot of viewers will enjoy relating to a particular breed or type of dog — a breed who is, in many ways, just like the four-legged champion curled up next to them on the couch.
“If I see a Brittany there and I’m sitting at home with my Brittany, that’s who I’m going to root for,” Frei said. “I think that’s kind of how people watch the show.”
The reference to the medium-sized dog known for being athletic, bright and family-oriented was not entirely coincidental: Frei admitted to having been readily and completely disarmed by a spirited Brittany named Grace, whose prominence in his life is no secret to regular viewers of The National Dog Show.
“They hear me saying hello to her on air all the time,” Frei said.
“She’s a retired AKC champion and we got her mostly as a therapy dog. We thought the name Healing Grace was fitting for her. When we were living in New York City, she would visit at the VA hospital every Wednesday, and Angel, our Cavalier King Charles, did as well. They were also going to the Ronald McDonald House, so they’re both accomplished therapy dogs. We try to talk about that during the show,” Frei added, “so that people watching may realize, ‘well I can’t put my dog into a show, but I can take him around to visit people in need as a therapy dog.’ ”
Newly recognized breeds to watch for this year include the American hairless terrier, the Pumi and the Sloughi.
“They call them new breeds because they’re newly eligible for shows, but some of them have been around for hundreds, or even thousands of years,” Frei noted. “It’s just that they’re now getting recognized in this country. It’s not like they suddenly appeared on the horizon.”
Frei is proud of the fact that The National Dog Show is one of the few benched shows remaining in the country.
“It’s a show for the spectators. The dogs have to be there from morning ‘til night, and when they’re not being shown they have to be in a specific area. I know if I want to see a beagle I can just look for a sign that says ‘beagles in 12B,’ and when I get to 12B here’s all the beagles and all the beagle people, as I like to say. You can get up close and personal, hug the dogs, pet the dogs and get your beagle fix and have a great time at the dog show. I think that’s the appeal of a benched dog show.”
As meticulously planned as the show is, for Frei, the pure excitement in hanging out with the purebreds lies in the offhanded, loving nature of all breeds.
“The competition notwithstanding, I think the thing we love about dogs is their spontaneity. They live their life in the moment. I want the show to be a celebration of the dogs in our lives. We’re going to see great show dogs and examples of different breeds, but I think the bottom line is the things our dogs do just for us, the fact that I can come home from a long day at the office, so to speak, and my dogs are waiting there wagging their tails. They’re happy to see me and it’s not just because I know how to open the refrigerator and use a can opener. They love me for myself. I think that helps make a lot things right in our world.”