David Frei is one of the most influential people in the dog show world. But there's one title he says fits him best.
"When people see me on the street, they may not know my name," he said, "but they know me as 'The Dog Guy.'"
The name is perfect for Frei. He spent a lifetime showing and judging dogs and almost 30 years as the host of some of the biggest televised canine competitions, including the Westminster Kennel Club, the National Dog Show and the Beverly Hills Dog Show.
Frei's next stage will be with the American Heart Association's International Heart Classic Virtual Dog Show. As the coronavirus forces the cancellation of many professional dog shows, fans of the sport needed a new outlet, leading to the idea for the online competition.
Owners can register by July 4 and submit entry videos by July 5, with winners announced online July 18-19. The contest is open to any pure-bred dog registered with a kennel club. A portion of the entry fees will benefit the American Heart Association and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.
The event is part of the AHA's Healthy Bond for Life initiative, which promotes pet ownership for better well-being and longer lives. Studies have shown that pets can help owners stay active, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, cut stress and boost happiness.
Frei has even seen these benefits with his own four-legged family members, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy named True and an 11-year-old Brittany named Grace.
"Dogs contribute so much to people's health and well-being," he said. "When you walk in the door, the dog isn't asking you any questions. It's just wagging its tail and looking at you like you're the smartest guy in the world."
He joked that getting a new puppy and following Oregon's stay-at-home restrictions has created togetherness that his dogs aren't quite sure how to handle.
"They look at me like, are you still going to be here today?" he said.
When talking about his dogs, Frei is quick to mention Angel, his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who passed away earlier this year. She was one of the inspirations behind a nonprofit he started and his book of the same name, "Angel on a Leash," about therapy dogs, a subject close to his heart.
Frei has countless examples of the positive effects he's seen in patients who visited with his therapy dogs over the years. He said "the energy changes when a dog walks in the room" whether it's at a home, a veteran's hospital or care facility for kids with cancer.
"When you get a child to smile, you get the parent to smile," he said.
This supportive feeling is what Frei hopes participants in the online dog show experience as well. He said submitting videos online should ease the pressure on those (pups or people) afraid to perform in front of a live audience. Plus, the online show will feature more than 130 judges, many with specialized credentials, who are eager to put their skills to use after the void of no competitions since March.
"We want to have fun with the show, and let our dogs have fun with us," he said. "So if your dog does something silly, leave it in the video. The best part of dog shows is seeing the connection people have with their dog."
With a job he loves and surrounded by the animals he loves, Frei said he is lucky. But he also is eager to share the credit.
"I'm blessed. I'm living an Angel-themed existence," Frei said as a nod to his faithful companion. "But it's all about the dogs. They're doing all the work. I'm just the treat carrier and the leash holder."
Visit HealthyBondforLife.heart.org for more information and details about how to register for the American Heart Association's International Heart Classic Virtual Dog Show. Filming guidelines and instructions for how to upload videos will be provided in your registration confirmation email.