By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
It's as much a tradition as turkey with stuffing and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Once again, the National Dog Show, presented by Purina, will follow the parade on NBC TV at noon (in all time zones) on Turkey Day.
This is the 11th year for the show, which is viewed by an estimated 20 million people -- and maybe as many or more dogs. Perennial show announcer David Frei laughs when asked about the ratings are among canine viewers. Certainly, the show appeals to viewers from ages 2 to 92.
"It's a show that everyone in the family can agree on," says Frei. "And, of course, we're No. 1 one with dogs."
Frei adds, "I know from doing the therapy dog work with Angel on a Leash (a non-profit animal-assisted therapy program) that when a dog walks into a room, people smile and the energy changes. I imagine that happens in homes, too, as people are flipping the channels. They see dogs and stop there."
Frei's hypothesis is that there are three additional reasons for the enormous viewership the show continues to attract.
1. Entertainment value: Frei says "There are 187 breeds and varieties of dogs; you sure won't see all of them on a walk in the park."
2. The alma mater factor: "So there I am watching the dog show in the comfort of my home on my sofa, and I look at my Brittany sitting next to me," says Frei. "And I say, 'Grace, if you skipped some cookies and I gave you a bath, you could go be in the show, too.' We all relate our own dogs to the dogs on TV."
3. The competition: "Unlike a football game when it's clear who wins, there's an element of subjectivity (when choosing dog show winners). I second guess the judges all the time. Of course, viewers do that at home, too. That's part of the fun."
Frei's partners on the broadcast are actor/author John O'Hurley and Mary Carillo from NBC sports. Carillo says she's covered at least 20 Wimbledon championships, 11 Olympic Games and more gymnastics and skiing events than she can count. Still, her favorite gig is the dog show.
"I'm not just saying that because I'm talking to you," Carillo stresses. "I like smiling on my job, and when you're surrounded by dogs, of course, all you do is smile. As I first began to cover dog shows, I was surprised you can have so many dogs in a reasonably small space, and they mind their manners."
While covering other athletes is certainly not a chore. Carillo says that when she covers a dog show, she isn't going to be talking about work stoppages or steroids, or dealing with players' big egos. "Dogs are dogs," she says. "They like attention and they like to give attention back even more. You know, I love dogs; they kill me. Dogs are the greatest!"
Carillo is not alone. Over 36 percent of households in America have at least one dog.
Frei and other experts suggest human beings may even have co-evolved with dogs.
"There's no doubt we have a great spiritual and emotional connection with dogs," says Frei. "For years, dogs were bred to do various jobs for us -- to help us hunt, to guard our homes, protect our flocks and even keep rats out of our homes. Today, dogs more and more are being bred for companionship. Their original jobs may no longer be pertinent, but what's more important than ever is that dogs are considered family members."
Carillo says there's no better job than covering the dog show. Frei hesitantly agrees. After all, he also once did a guest shot on an episode of "Sex and the City."
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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