A major winter storm may have pummeled the Northeast over the weekend, but the show must go on! The Westminster Kennel Club's 137th Annual All-Breed Dog Show, that is. David Frei, the longtime USA Network co-host of the show (as well as a breeder, owner, handler, and judge), is confident that the show will be largely unaffected by the weather. Some schedules need to be rearranged, Frei said in an interview, but "Dog show people are a pretty tenacious lot. They [compete] no matter what's going on."
Frei dished about this year's show and what pooch-loving fans can expect from the second-longest-running sporting event in U.S. history.
What surprises can fans anticipate for this year's show?
There always are surprises at Westminster, especially from the competitors' standpoint. But this year we're moving the breed judging to Pier 92 and 94 on the west side. It gives us a lot more room for benching if you're at the show. If you're watching us online, you can watch a streaming live video. … We have a new app out that's available for iPhone and Android. We're just bringing everything to everybody. Millions of people are watching us on whatever kind of [device] you can imagine. And we love it.
An event like this has so many moving parts. What are the most challenging factors to pull it off smoothly?
It's been 137 years, so there are a lot of things that come very easily to us. This year, moving the show up to the piers, of course, is something new and different for us, but we think we'll make it happen. We know that we'll make it happen. And we know that people will enjoy having over 200,000 square feet. We know that they will enjoy being back at the Gardens, at the world's greatest sporting arena, for the final celebration. The challenges, I think, are best answered by the dogs in the ring. We'll see what happens.
Speaking of the dogs and the unexpected, have you ever caught the dogs in any funny blooper-like moments?
The dogs are pretty well behaved. They do this almost every weekend … but they are dogs -- the spontaneity of dogs. The fact is that they are real dogs. They don't sit around on doggie cushions eating doggie bonbons all week long. They're family dogs just like the rest of us have. They're shedding on our clothes. They're eating food off our counters. They're probably even drinking out of the toilet once in a while.
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What are some of the fun or interesting ways that the dogs are kept entertained throughout the event?
The dogs love being back in the benching area, where people can walk through and get up close and personal with them, pet them, talk to the breeders, owners, and handlers. Find out about the breed. If you're thinking about getting a dog, find out about the breed. Find out if it's the right dog to match your lifestyle. Find out about responsible ownership, whether it's a purebred dog or a mixed-breed dog. We love them all and want them all to have great, loving homes.
There are two new breeds in this year's show: the Russell terrier and the Treeing Walker coonhound. Will they threaten any favorites in their respective categories?
Maybe not this year. Maybe in the next few years they'll make their own [mark]. With 2,721 dogs, 187 breed and varieties, there's going to be a great winner no matter where it comes from.
The WKC dog show is the second-longest continuously running sporting event in the U.S. What has changed the most since the event's beginning and what is still done the same way?
Since the beginning, I think what's changed the most is the number of dogs and breeds that are eligible for it. When I started [hosting] back in 1990, we had 142 breeds and varieties. Now, this year, we have 187. We continue to add to our pool, if you will. But, you know what, they're dogs; they've been dogs. [Frei was standing with a St. Bernard named Cookie and her handler, Melody Salmi.] This St. Bernard looks a lot like the St. Bernards that were in our first show in 1877. We're still having fun with our dogs, and they just get a little better. They take better care of them. They're getting better health, better food. And we're breeding the next generation of healthy, happy dogs for show dog people, for families, and everybody else who's ever touched by any of these dogs.
The American Kennel Club recently named America's favorite dogs. Are any of the top breeds [Labrador retriever, German shepherd, golden retrievers, beagles] a favorite to take Best in Show this year?
You know, everybody always asks me how come a golden retriever or how a Labrador hasn't gotten Best in Show at Westminster. The day is coming. It's just a matter of mathematics at this point; 105 times we've awarded Best in Show. So out of 187 breeds, we can't get to all of them just yet, but we're trying. I think America would love to see a golden or a Lab win, but every year it's going to be the best dog: the best in breed and the greatest show dog standing out there in the middle of our green carpeted "Best in Show" ring with somebody pointing to them and saying, "You're best in show. You're going to be America's dog for the next year."
What is your favorite event or the most exciting portion of the show that you most look forward to?
I look forward to Best in Show, but I also look forward to the benching, where all the dogs are waiting for people to come back and hug them and talk to them, because people are there celebrating. A lot of people come to Westminster not expecting to win. They're coming because they want to see their friends, spend a couple of days with their friends, hanging out at the dog show, doing New York things, and having a great time at one of the world's great sporting events.
2012's Best in Show winner visits "The View":
The Westminster Kennel Club's 137th Annual All-Breed Dog Show will award Best in Show live Tuesday, 2/12 at 8 PM on USA.