Ex-Woodinville man is longtime voice of Westminster dog show
Former Woodinville resident Dave Frei has been the voice of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show for 24 years. He was recently in Seattle meeting some of the area’s entrants.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Westminster dog show
Airing live Monday on CNBC, 5-8 p.m. PT, and Tuesday on USA Network, 5-8 p.m. PT.
Read a Q&A with dog-show blogger Billy Wheeler at http://seattletimes.com/html/pets/2022854028_westminsterwheelerqaxml.html
Dave Frei dug into his briefcase and pulled out, of all things, a lint roller.
“I support this industry,” he said, holding it up like the Olympic torch before running it down one arm of his suit jacket. “I think of dog hair as a condiment. But, you know, I have the greatest job in the world.”
Few would argue with Frei, 64, a former Woodinville resident who is celebrating his 24th year as the voice of Westminster Kennel Club’s annual competition.
“I like that better than ‘the face’ of Westminster,” Frei cracked on a recent visit to Seattle to promote Westminster — and meet some of the local dogs entered.
The show, which airs live Monday (CNBC) and Tuesday (USA channel), is one of the oldest continuous sporting events in the United States, second only to the Kentucky Derby. More than 600 media outlets from more than 20 countries have been credentialed.
And it gets huge numbers in Seattle, where the most recent U.S. census found that 25.2 percent of households in the city have dogs, while just 19.7 percent have kids. (Cats had them both beaten, by the way, with 29.5 percent.)
This year, Washington state will boast one of the highest numbers of entries at Westminster, with 73 dogs in the show.
This year’s entry list — 2,845 dogs, with 228 more in the agility trials — is the largest since 1990 and, for the first time, includes “All Americans,” otherwise known as mixed breeds — or just mutts.
Dogs are judged on their “standard,” which is the written description of the ideal specimen of that breed. Eye color, eye shape, structure, angles. The length of the neck. The tuck up in the loin. The symmetry.
“I have to be able to picture the dog doing what it was bred to do,” said Frei, who left Seattle when his wife became the director of family support at the Ronald McDonald House on New York’s Upper East Side.
But even that can’t guarantee a win.
“You need your dog to have a divine moment of inspiration when he’s in the ring,” he said. “Maybe your dog didn’t like the water in the hotel. You just never know.
“But it’s the charisma of the dog that distinguishes it from the other set. They own the ground they’re standing over.”
The Westminster is so popular that the director of the sports book of the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas sets the line on the winning breed. In the past six years, he’s hit the winner three times.
It’s just for fun, Frei said.
“You should like whatever dog you like for whatever reason you like them.”
The job has its perks. Frei can’t walk down the street in Manhattan without attracting attention. (“Hey! You’re the dog guy!” is a frequent greeting.)
Every year, he takes the Best in Show winner to visit Donald Trump at the Trump Tower (“He likes to hang around winners”).
He rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
And in 2004, he appeared in an episode of “Sex and the City,” when he played a dog-show judge who was so taken with Charlotte, he gave her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel — named Elizabeth Taylor — a blue ribbon.
“I still get residuals, 10 years later,” Frei said. “I think the last check was for $1.04.”
Part of Frei’s job is to show the audience that the dogs are real.
“These are not little robots sitting on doggy cushions eating bonbons,” he said. “These are real dogs and real people doing a hobby that they enjoy.”
Over the years, Frei has heard his share of jokes about the dog-show culture, in no small part because of “Best in Show,” the Christopher Guest movie that lampooned the community.
But there is some truth to the dog stereotypes, he said.
Toy dogs? Napoleon complexes, Frei said. You can fill a room with Great Danes and Dobermans, and it’s the tiny little Yorkie who won’t stop yapping.
Goldens and Labs? They’re a soft touch. Their worlds revolve around their people.
And terriers? “It’s their world and we’re just living in it,” Frei said.
There, he walks their dogs Angel and Grace, who introduce him to all kinds of people, and who have taught him to slow down.
“You see a lot more when you go slow,” he said.
Frei is also the founder of a nonprofit called “Angel on a Leash,” which trains, registers and insures therapy dogs to visit hospitals. They also are used as motivational tools to help children do physical therapy and other activities.
“A dog walks into the room and the energy changes,” Frei said. “People smile for the first time. They step out of a stroller or a wheelchair to interact with a dog.”
Frei and his Brittany spaniel, Grace, visit Sloan Kettering in New York City every Monday night, and the Ronald McDonald House every Tuesday.
He has collected some of his stories in a book called “Angel on a Leash.”
“The great thing about dogs is that they are honest and spontaneous and they don’t hold grudges,” Frei said. “If they could talk, they would say, ‘Me, too!’ ”
“And you don’t have to have any special qualities to be loved by a dog,” he continued. “You need to be able to open the fridge, operate a can opener. I know someone is a sharing person if they have a dog in their life.”
Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org