John O’Hurley owns a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and were it not for her tooth alignment issue, it’s possible O’Hurley might have been on the other side of the camera for Thursday’s annual televised National Dog Show.
As it is, O’Hurley and canine expert David Frei will return for their 13th year as co-hosts of the show (NBC, noon-2 p.m.), which has become almost as embedded a Thanksgiving TV tradition as football.
Okay, we said “almost.” But last year it drew an estimated 22 million viewers, a number that makes pretty much every other show on television pant with envy.
That may be one reason why the Thanksgiving dog park on TV got a little more crowded this year.
“Cause for Paws,” a show designed to call attention to the plight of rescue dogs, will air Thursday on Fox, 6-8 p.m.
“Cause” is executive-produced by long-time rescue activist Hilary Swank, who will co-host the show with Jane Lynch.
It will feature 35 rescue dogs and some of Swank’s famous human friends, who will drop by to encourage adoptions. That group includes Scarlett Johansson, Betty White, Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell, as well as singers Miranda Lambert, Paula Abdul, Fergie, LeAnn Rimes and Kesha.
It’s a different kind of show from the National Dog Show, which is a more traditional presentation with a different goal: showcasing the purebreds that best represent the standards of 192 American Kennel Club-recognized breeds.
O’Hurley says that’s been an education for him as well.
“I’ve learned a lot over 13 years,” he says. “I don’t ask the silly questions any more, like which end of the dog are they judging.
“Now I can actually recognize a good dog in the ring.”
That won’t be his dog, though it was close.
“Our Cavalier comes from champion lineage,” says O’Hurley. “But she has a bit of an overbite, so she’s not show material. And we love her dearly.”
Unlike the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February, which is televised live from Madison Square Garden, the National Dog Show is taped several days earlier in Philadelphia.
It’s then edited down from seven hours to two, which Frei says can create some challenges.
“When you’ve only got two hours, you can’t show all the breeds,” he says. “So you get some complaints about why this dog or that dog wasn’t shown. We try to assuage some of that online, where you can see all the dogs.”
What’s on TV, though, says O’Hurley, makes the point, which is that “dogs make you smile. We walk into that show and see 2,000 dogs, and there isn’t a frown in the place. It’s the happiest day of the year.
“The show on TV brings everyone together. Football telecasts are so regional now that not everyone is going to care about every game. The parade isn’t for everyone.
“But no one doesn’t like dogs. Old, young, the whole family can watch.”
Including the family dog.
“People send us pictures all the time of their dog barking at the dog on the screen,” says Frei. “You’d be surprised.”
The producers of “Cause for Paws” are hoping that it’s the human viewers who will be drawn to the dogs on the screen — enough to take them home, or take another rescue dog home.
The show is a high-profile version of local rescue events that take place all over the country, as rescue organizations try to cut down on the number of dogs who are euthanized each year at pet shelters because the shelters don’t have the room or resources to keep them all.
“About nine million animals end up in shelters every year and only about half make it out,” notes Swank.
“Cause for Paws” will urge viewers who want a dog to shop first at the local shelter — where many of the dogs won’t be purebreds, but where they have the same wagging tails and eagerness to chase a tennis ball or take a nap next to you on the couch.
While some rescue dogs are purebreds, many of the others are better described as one-of-a-kinds.
There have been pockets of tension over the years between rescue groups and the AKC, with rescue groups expressing concern that some breeders or owners dump dogs who don’t meet AKC standards.
Or that the mere existence of AKC standards creates a perception that mixed breeds are somehow not as good.
Frei and O’Hurley note that the National Dog Show doesn’t only promote show winners. It also promotes therapy dogs, like the ones who participate in Frei’s Angel on a Leash program, and it encourages viewers to value their own dog, whatever its breed or lack of breed.
“The most important dog in the world,” Frei says, “is the one sitting beside you.”
O’Hurley notes that one of the goals of the National Dog Show is to educate potential owners on the characteristics of each breed, so they will know what they are getting and be less likely to decide they don’t like what they have gotten.
“The shelters are full of dogs that someone took for a trial run,” says O’Hurley. “That saddens me.”
Because he’s not the only one who feels that way, “Cause for Paws” may be a little more heart-tugging than the National Dog Show.
But they both celebrate humankind’s relationship with the most loyal companion ever, and that extends from the basic bonds down to the subtlest nuances.
“One of the things we’ll put in a little more this year is how the handlers handle the dogs,” says O’Hurley. “If the handler doesn’t have exactly the same pace as the dog when they go around the ring, it can throw the dog’s gait off and the dog won’t look as good.”
“They say great handlers are invisible in the ring,” says Frei — but really, the best handlers and the best dogs work together.
Tags: entertainment news , tv , john o’hurley , nbc , hilary swank , jane lynch , scarlett johansson , betty white , josh duhamel , kristen bell , miranda lambert , paula abdul , fergie , leann rimes , kesha