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Dog Day Afternoon

November 22, 2007 By:
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Paws before Thanksgiving duties: John O'Hurley, National Dog Show host/dog-book author, raises the woof.
Dancing with the St. Bernards?

Sure, why not, demands John O'Hurley, whose fancy footwork earned him a playoff championship on the first season of "Dancing With the Stars."

But that's not what's got him hot under the collar now; it's the canine can-do attitude that has him stepping up to the forepaw in favor of dog dancing. "Every year ... dancing seems to more and more encroach upon the [National] Dog Show, doesn't it? Why not? Let's throw it in there. We'll throw a bit of the talent competition in there."

What would J. Peterman say? Probably that a dog should dance in nothing more than fur -- PETA, got a complaint? -- possibly attired only in a sober, but sustaining, sombrero to shield it from the hot lights of fame and feline distraction.

Just $10.95.

No price to put on the pleasure O'Hurley is getting with his next assignment. Dog-lover/author O'Hurley is prepping for a dog day afternoon that out-pooches any Pacino. The urbane, silver-maned matinee-idol -- whose "Seinfeld" signature role of J. Peterman has far from petered out (with a nod to Norelco, he liked it so much, he bought the company) -- is hosting "The National Dog Show" for the sixth time, presented Thanksgiving Day by Purina from Philadelphia on NBC.

It all follows on the heels -- heel! -- of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Turkeys and Tibetan Mastiffs -- perfect together? Drum roll, drumsticks, please. This Kennel Club of Philadelphia Dog Show is agog with top dogs, put through their paces by handlers eager to strut their stuff.

And the dogs' stuff, too.

But who's handling whom? Well, it's a close call, acknowledges O'Hurley, the well-bred bon vivant earning bread from "Seinfeld" reruns, as well as hosting "Family Feud"; being Arthurian in a Las Vegas production of "Spamalot"; and throwing his lot in with voice-overs.

Dogged by fans for his good looks and hypnotic come-hither brooding baritone that pulses with pheromonee, is it any wonder that people who like People voted him one of America's "Sexiest Men Alive"?

Capital punishment? Capital achievements! He's also successfully involved with capital-venture firms.

Enough to put his two dogs through canine college? Who's teaching whom, he asks? They've given him a new leash on life.

"The most important lesson that dogs teach us is to live in the present moment," says O'Hurley, whose latest present is a baby boy born to him and wife Lisa. "Dogs are wonderful companions that teach us to live outside the sense of time, to live without a sense of regret, to take every moment as it comes."

And this is that moment -- or it might be for the thousands of purebreds ready to do the "Chorus Line" equivalent of ... walk, heel, walk, heel. And one of them is a canine cutie called Canaan, a Mideast midsize dog hoping to get its just deserts at the show.

Call her Miss Israel 2007, but call her a contender?

"That's probably a long shot for [the breed] taking it all," says David Frei, O'Hurley's co-host and expert analyst for the broadcast also familiar to millions as "The Voice of Westminster." (The dog show, not the abbey.)

"They're still relatively new, and I think people and judges are still getting used to seeing them. But they're a wonderful, magnificent dog because they've been around for thousands of years."

As old as the sands of time ... the original fiddlers on the -- woof? Well, the breed (Kelev Cana'ani) has been especially helpful to Israelis, who, according to the Canaan Dog Club of America, have used them "for guard duties, as mine detectors during wartime, as messengers and as Red Cross helpers."

And if the breed is "aloof with strangers, inquisitive, loyal," well ... it is Israeli, after all.

Good dog, according to Amy Preston, and she should know. It's no mystery why the Mystic, Conn., woman has come to Philadelphia for the dog shindig; she's showing her own Canaan, Vixen, a 9-month-old pup pumped for her first major show.

Does Vixen speak Hebrew?

"Well," avers Preston, when pressed, "she does have a little accent."

But the accent is on the naturalness of the breed, which is what brought Preston to own three Canaans.

"My own outlook on life is natural; I'm a believer in organic [lifestyle]," says the dog behaviorist/trainer/teacher. "And these dogs are known for their naturalness and health."

Indeed, no Sinai trouble at all.

While she herself is not Jewish, Preston allows Vixen freedom to chews her, uh, religion. Kosher kibble? "Well, she eats raw food," kibitzes the owner.

A Jewish dog, gentile owner -- a mixed family of tolerance? "She's named Vixen -- and many Jewish owners give their Canaans Jewish names -- but mine is Vixen because when she feels like doing something, she wants to do it now."

No, no Jewish American prince of a pooch this one; all Israeli, down to his sandy claws. "They are the national dog of Israel."

Three barks for the blue and white? Canaans are "an intelligent, trainable breed whose tracking ability is excellent," according to the CDCA. Put a bowl of Manischewitz in front of them and they'll follow you anywhere. "Because of the strong 'denning' instinct of their recent semi-wild past, the Canaan Dog is naturally clean and easily housebroken," continues the CDCA.

No party poop, these pups. But what do they do for fun? Summer camp for Canaans? Been there, dogged that. "In Israel, they live on the fringe of bedouin camps," says Preston. "They kind of like living with people and not like living with people. This is not the type you just pat on the head" if you're outside the family.

But, ironically, neither is it known for selling electronics or jewelry. "They are somewhat standoffish," concedes Preston. And what is the Yiddish for skittish? But they are great dogs, especially loving and loyal. And, no, it is not true that they are especially comfortable sticking their heads out of the window while riding in Mercedeses.

Unfortunately, says Preston, she and her family will be too pressed for time when visiting Philadelphia, and won't be able to see the Jewish sights, which she's sure Vixen would enjoy.

But, it is pointed out in a whisper, Vixen will be taking part in the actual show -- she's competing in the event's confirmation class; maybe Vixen's Reform -- on a Saturday afternoon, a shandah even for schnauzers.

(The NBC show is a tape of the live event.)

"I understand that," says Preston. "But she's doing it for a good cause, for her education, and only this one time. She will give up something during the week for violating Shabbat."

Maybe do some extra research, studying up for her ... Bark Mitzvah?

 

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