For a dozen years now millions of dog lovers have added a new tradition on Thanksgiving Day: watching the National Dog Show presented by Purina on NBC. In fact, with an estimated 20 million viewers, this annual event has become the most-watched dog show broadcast of the year, according to the host, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia.
This year the show will introduce three new American Kennel Club breeds to the American public – the Chinook, the Rat Terrier and the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno.
I sat in on a conference call with National Dog Show cohost and canine expert David Frei, and Mary Carillo, his Westminster broadcast partner who joins him on the turkey day broadcast. Once again this year the National Dog Show will promote the work of its Therapy Dog Ambassador program, who visit the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, where the dog show is held. They discussed the show’s important work promoting therapy dogs and why dogs are so important in our lives, now more than ever.
“The use of therapy dogs to provide comfort to children, seniors and others in need has grown dramatically over the past decade,” says Frei, author of the therapy dog book “Angel on a Leash,’’ named for the therapy dog organization he founded. “This program brings wonderful exposure to the great work that these dogs and their handlers do.”
Carillo agreed that the work of therapy dogs is important, and says for many of us our own dogs give us therapy. “I know I am better physically, emotionally and mentally when I can be around my dogs,’’ says Carillo, who has an 8-year-old Westhighland White Terrier named Roxy and a young mixed-breed rescue named Petey Boy.
“Dogs seem to have this innate ability to know what you need and what you are feeling,’’ Frei agrees.
Carillo, an award-winning reporter who is getting set to cover another Olympics, the Winter Games in Russia, says she much prefers doing stories about dogs than some of the human athletes. “They are much more pleasant to deal with, and I have never been licked by any other athlete,’’ a comment that provokes laughter and humorous asides.
Traveling the world to cover the Olympics and other events takes its toll, Carillo shares. “When I come home from the road the first thing I do, before even taking a shower, is to go out and walk my dogs. We take a nice, long walk. They will sniff around and ‘read the news,’ and sometimes I just talk to them. It is the most therapeutic thing in the world.’’
By spotlighting the work of therapy dogs during this year’s show, Frei hopes to encourage people who have dogs with the right temperament to put them to work, helping out in their communities. Although, he acknowledges, not every dog is cut out for the job.
“Great therapy dogs are born, not made,’’ he says. “They have to have a certain personality and temperament for the job. And if your dog doesn’t like poking, prodding kids, which they might encounter visiting a Ronald McDonald House, they can still be a therapy dog at an extended-care center.’’
Responding to a question about whether there are health-care statistics showing the value of therapy-dog work, Frei explains it is hard to quantify, especially due to confidentiality rules regarding health care. But he sees the impact first hand when he makes visits with his therapy dogs. “When a parent tells me their child just smiled for the first time this week when visiting my therapy dog, I know the power.’’
The three new additions to the American Kennel Club Registry will make their major event debut on the two-hour NBC TV special on Thanksgiving Day, immediately following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Frei says the three new breeds bring to 190 the number of AKC sanctioned breeds on hand to compete for the prestigious title of “Best in Show.”
Could one of these be the right dog for you? Here is a brief description of each new breed:
*The Chinook is a rare American breed of sled dog that was developed in New Hampshire and used in the first Antarctic expedition by Admiral Richard Byrd in 1927. This athletic, hard-bodied dog is named for chinooks, which mean “warm winter winds’’ in Inuit (Eskimo Language). This all-purpose working dog has power, endurance and speed, along with a friendly, gentle nature. Learn more>>
*The Rat Terrier, another breed developed in America, is a multi-purpose companion dog who was bred to keep farms clear of rodents and vermin. This sturdy, speedy, small-to-medium sized parti-colored dog gives the appearance of elegance and athleticism. These active, intelligent little dogs are loyal and very playful. Learn more>>
*The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, a primitive breed, is known for its small size, erect ears, wedge shaped head, and two coat types, smooth and wire. It hunts by sight, scent and hearing. This very lively and intelligent dog is a natural hunter who also makes a great companion who willingly serves as a watchdog. Learn more>>
For more detailed information on the National Dog Show Presented By Purina ® and the Kennel Club of Philadelphia Dog Shows please visit nationaldogshow.com
To learn more about therapy dogs visit angelonaleash.org