Valentine's Day and a Dog Show, Westminster-Style


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By Steve Dale

            The
135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is February 14 -15 at Madison
Square Garden, New York City.

It is the second oldest sporting event in
America, next to the Kentucky Derby. And it seems David Frei has been a part of
it for as long as anyone can remember. “Well, I’m not that old,” he says. This is Frei’s 22nd year at the
microphone.

Westminster Dog Show, circa 1904

            “The
great thing about the dog show is that it’s really the same each year,” says
Frei. “The (Champion) quality dogs are judged within their own breed, then the
winner of each breed is judged in it’s own group. And that’s what’s seen on TV,
the seven Groups being judged, followed by one winner representing each Group
and one of those seven is chosen as Best in Show.”

            What’s
different each year, of course, are the dog show judges and the dogs
themselves. Most years, Frei has a good handle on what he expects to happen,
but he says that this year is up for grabs.       

David Frei with Uno, the 2008 Westminster Best in Show winner, at the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, with friends

The
last time that happened was in 2008 when a Beagle named Uno won Best in Show.
“In all the years, I had never heard Madison Square Garden as loud as when Uno
was named the winner,” says Frei. “It’s what I’ve been saying for 22 years, on
any given day and given dog can have that something special, that ‘it factor.”

            In
article describing what it takes to be successful, at the top of your business,
a writer for Oprah Magazine described the ‘It factor,’ and used Uno as the
example.    

(click continue reading)
            “Uno’s
a character, and people love that,” says Frei. “People stop me on the street
and ask, ‘How’s Uno.”

Uno making an appearance for animal assisted therapy group, Angel on a Leash, in Milwaukee, WI

            Actually
Uno has a pretty darn good life. When he’s not sharing Frei’s New York City big
city media star life, the 5-year old Beagle is 200-acre ranch in Texas. In
fact, he shares the same bed as Stump, the now 12-year old Sussex Spaniel who
took Westminster Best in Show in 2009, and J. R., the Bichon Frise who won
Westminster in 2001. When the three are together, you have to wonder what they
talk about.

           

2004 Westminster Best in Show Winner, Josh (a Newfoundland)

Frei
laughs and says, “I don’t know that. But  of the 2,500 or so
Champion dogs (Championships are awarded to dogs who have passed through a
process of selection and earned a certain number of points at dog shows), at
Westminster may Champions as they walk into Madison Square Garden, but they are
also just all dogs who like to run and play, snuggle on the sofa and may even
take an occasional drink from the toilet.”

            Judges
first judge all competitors within their breed. So, all Golden Retrievers (a
breed which has surprisingly never won Westminster) are judged against all
other Golden’s. The Golden Retriever is a member of the Sporting Group. So, the
winning Golden then goes up against all the other top breed picks in the
Sporting Group. And that process is repeated for all the groups.

  

Lou Auslander, International Kennel Club of Chicago, judged Terriers, 1998

Each
Group is judged separately. One representing winner is chosen for all seven
Groups: Terriers, Sporting dogs, Non-Sporting dogs, Hounds, Toy, Working and
Herding dogs. This is televised. And of course, so are the final seven left
standing who compete in Best in Show.

Does he look tough? This year’s Best in Show judge, from Italy Paolo Dondina

            This
year’s Best in Show (BIS) judge is
Paolo Dondina. This marks the first time ever an Italian judge has been chosen
to pick the top dog. In fact, only twice before have there have been BIS judges
from other countries, Canada and England. Also, this marks the first time the
Best in Show judge at Westminster will also judge at the world renowned Crufts
Dog Show in England in March.

            Frei
says, “That makes the outcome this year even more unpredictable.” Often judges
are known to be predisposed to favorite breeds; after all, they are only human.
However, Dondina’s favorites aren’t as well known. And attempting to figure
them out isn’t easy. The breeds he’s shown over the years read like a laundry
list of dog breeds and crosses over into several Groups.

            The
Westminster Show is televised: Monday, February 14
Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding Groups at 8-9 p.m. (ET) live on USA Network
9-11 p.m. (ET) live on CNBC.

             Tuesday, February 15
Sporting, Working and Terrier Groups, Best In Show, 8-11 p.m. (ET) live on USA Network.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services