NATIONAL DOG SHOW THERAPY DOG AMBASSADOR TEAM ADDS FOUR NEW MEMBERS FOR 2016
Philadelphia, PA— The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s Therapy Dog Ambassador Team will add four new members in 2016, with Aladdin, Butler, Xena and Willow joining the five returnees from last year.
This seven-year tradition now brings together a dynamic team of nine canines, who make regular visits to hospitals and healthcare facilities, including the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, where they help to comfort patients and their families. The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Shows involve the canine stars as members of its Therapy Dog Ambassador Team to promote the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House and the annual dog shows hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia each November.
The 2016 National Dog Show Therapy Dog Ambassador Team includes:
v Lil’ Abner, age 6, and Stella, age 8, are Dogues de Bordeux who together create a memorable 280-pound experience whenever they walk into a room. Lil’Abner won a blue Ribbon in the novice Dogue de Bordeaux class at the 2011 National Dog Show. Abner and Stella are owned by Steven & Donna Kramer of Langhorne, and Steven is a certified evaluator for Therapy Dog International.
v Waylon, age 11, is a Belgian Sheepdog and son of the late, former Therapy Dog Ambassador, Eli. He is a retired show dog and visits each summer at the Ronald McDonald Camp in the Poconos. He is owned and handled by Sherry Hanley of Allentown, a retired Lehigh County deputy sheriff.
v Vivian, age 6, is a Staffordshire Terrier mix who was named the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union’s Neighborhood Hero for 2014. She spent time with the New Leash on Life USA program, being socialized by incarcerated individuals before their release back into society. Vivian is owned and handled by Michele Pich, a grief counselor at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, who has been directing the VetPets Animal-Assisted Activities program at the Ronald McDonald House since 2010.
v Benny, age 2, is a 57- pound English Bulldog who regularly visits the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House as well as St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Along with Abner and Stella, Benny is owned by Steven & Donna Kramer.
v Aladdin, age 5, has been recognized by American Humane Hero Dog Awards and was a finalist in the Hero Dog of the Year in Therapy category. He is the ambassador for nationwide animal abuse campaign Show Your Soft Side. Aladdin is owned by Michele Shaffer-Stevens, who is chairperson of the National Dog Show Gala organizing committee.
v Xena, age 3, Shih Tzu – Yorkie mix and Willow, age 2, rescued Shih Tzu – Poodle mix. They visit the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House on a weekly basis and are also active members of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Pet Therapy program. They also make home visits to kids in hospice care. Xena and Willow are owned and handled by Emily Martin of Philadelphia, PA.
v Butler, age 4, Shepherd mix, is a spokesdog for American Humane Association and the official therapy dog of The Weather Channel. Butler serves as a first responder for both organizations, providing comfort to children and families whose lives have been adversely affected by disaster. He was rescued from a shelter by owner and handler Dr. Amy McCullough, national director of Humane Research and Therapy for American Humane Association, the country’s first national humane organization.
The National Dog Show Therapy Dog Ambassador Team was founded by the late Rufus, the accomplished, Colored Bull Terrier who retired to a celebrated career as a therapy dog after winning the National Dog Show Presented by Purina in 2005 and following that up by triumphing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show three months later in New York City. Rufus was joined two years later by the late Eli, the Belgian Sheepdog who showed in Philadelphia before retiring to therapy work. Eli was one of the last few living therapy dogs who comforted victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
All nine dogs play a vital role in helping to make a difference in people’s lives. In addition to their weekly work at hospitals, nursing homes, and institutions, the Therapy Dog Ambassadors will be making therapy visits and media appearances in conjunction with National Dog Show activities in Philadelphia and New York City.
After 27 years of exploring the wonder of man’s best friend with millions of dog-loving television viewers around the world as the broadcast co-host, David Frei said goodbye to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this past February with nary a tinge of sadness or regret.
“The dog world is a big place,” Frei offers gleefully from his new home in Cannon Beach, Oregon. “Much bigger than when I started and growing still. And now I’m a part of guiding that growth for the good of the sport. This is that rare moment in time when I truly have the best of both worlds.”
One of those worlds is The National Dog Show Presented by Purina, the now 15 year-old NBC Thanksgiving Day special that has become appointment television for millions of families together for their traditional, November holiday celebration. Another is Frei’s newest challenge, The Beverly Hills Dog Show presented by Purina, a newly-minted endeavor hosted by the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills, headed for USA Network television screens in 2017 – on Easter Sunday.
Where he once had limitations about what he could and could not work on (Frei was also the fulltime Director of Communications for Westminster), he now has the freedom to survey the landscape, pick his spots and apply his decades of marketing, public relations and television knowledge to projects that embody his passion for pets.
As the expert analyst of The National Dog Show, he is known as the voice of the dog show world, but he recently hosted a cat show on the Hallmark Channel, The Kitten Summer Games. He is the executive in charge of the Beverly Hills project, able to marry his passion for the sport to its appeal to the masses through television. His newly-liberated schedule includes advocacy work as America’s leader in the growing therapy dog movement, judging at dog shows across the United States and appearing regularly as a spokesperson for the sport, responsible pet ownership and the importance of the human-animal bond.
“Anyone who spends time with dogs will tell you those are their best moments of the day,” Frei asserts. “I’ve seen miracles in hospital rooms when an ill child encounters the love, innocence and energy of a trained therapy dog. I get to work with dogs. I get to work with dog people. And I get to do it in new and different ways while continuing in my role as an on-air commentator talking directly to the audiences.”
Frei’s relationships in the dog world have been particularly useful as he develops this newest TV product with a celebrity component in America’s entertainment industry capital of Hollywood. John O’Hurley, the popular Seinfeld and Dancing With The Stars personality and host of The National Dog Show, lives in Beverly Hills and is playing a role in recruiting celebrity dog lovers for the project. Kennel Club of Beverly Hills officials are thrilled with the TV exposure on tap for their annual show and appreciate working with Frei, who speaks their language and understands the intricacies of producing the Best In Show competition among thousands of entrants encompassing more than 200 breeds and varieties.
“My dogs have changed my life,” Frei says. “And they have changed the lives of a lot of other people, too -- formally as therapy dogs but also informally, ‘on the street,’ through their spontaneity and unconditional love for everyone. I want to inspire people to get their own dogs out there doing something for people in need.
“The dogs are truly the stars in my world. And our shows on NBC and USA Network are truly a celebration of the dogs in our lives -- show dogs, therapy dogs, purebreds and mixed breeds. We should thank them every day for letting us be on the other end of their leashes.”
“David Frei unplugged,” the subject mused. “Okay. Unplugged. But with the electricity and excitement of our canine friends energizing me every day.”