While most American football fans spend Turkey Day glued to the big games, David Frei—former public relations director for ABC Sports, the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers—has long upheld a different tradition.
For the last 15 years, Frei has traded pigskin for puppy grins as co-host (with actor John O’Hurley) of The National Dog Show presented by Purina®, which airs on NBC on Thanksgiving Day. His signature warmth, wit and breed expertise have helped garner the show more than 20 million loyal viewers.
“Our show is more than a dog show; it becomes a celebration of the dogs in our lives and our families—whether purebred or not,” he says. “Show dogs may be dressed up a little bit, but they do the same thing at home as your dog: they shed, they drink from the toilet, they eat off the counter. We used to breed dogs to work for us, but now they’re members of our families. That’s what people relate to.”
Frei’s own family, which includes wife Cherilyn, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Angel and a Brittany Spaniel called Grace, knows a thing or two about getting to the heart of people. From 2006-2016, the Freis (both two- and four-legged) immersed themselves in the mission of therapy dog work through their Angel on a Leash charity.
“Therapy dog work shows the wonderful things dogs do for us,” says Frei. “Being able to bring that to healthcare is really special. The energy changes when we walk in.” Frei says many patients light up at the sight of a dog, sometimes talking or smiling for the first time in a long time. “I get the dog there and stay out of the way,” he jokes. “Dogs live in the moment, and who lives more in the moment than a patient with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease? Sharing that with people in need has brought the greatest happiness to me.”
When they’re not visiting patients, the furry Frei siblings lead pretty typical lives. Angel, the little one, is “fully in charge,” while Grace stays busy acquainting herself with the local wildlife (the family moved from NYC to the Oregon coast in 2016).
“Grace is a bird dog, and in the city her idea of a game bird was a pigeon,” says Frei. “She’d stop and point at every one she came across. At the beach, her new game bird is the seagull. It’s fun to see [the dogs] get involved with new situations and new people. They’re always wagging their tails and are so much fun to be around.”
In fact, Frei credits his dogs with connecting the couple to new friends. “We wouldn’t know anybody if we didn’t have dogs,” he laughs. “[Grace and Angel] have brought us the wonderful people in our lives. Every diplomat ought to have a dog.”
As for the debate between pedigrees and muttigrees, Frei doesn’t like to pick sides. Though he spent 27 years calling the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show before hosting the National Dog Show, and has bred and owned champion Afghan Hounds, Frei says it’s not about the breed: it’s about the love.
“A dog doesn’t have to be a show dog; it has to be your dog,” he says. “I thank my dogs every day for letting me be on the other end of the leash. It inspires me to be the person my dogs think I am. I know my dogs love me—and not just because I know how to open the refrigerator. I think they’re grateful they get to share in my life, too. At the end of the day, the real ‘best in show’ is the dog you have on the couch next to you.”
— published in fetch! magazine, the “Bumps in the Road” issue