The Voice Of Westminster Reflects On 27 Years In The Ring

By: Ranny Green | Feb. 2, 2016
Frei enjoys some quality time with his buddy, Uno, Westminster Best In Show winner in 2008. Uno and Frei did many charity and promotional appearances around the country following the win. Photo: Mary Bloom.

When he debuted as the voice of Westminster in 1990, David Frei was an outsider in many ways, even though he had been a breeder-owner-handler of Afghan Hounds for the previous 20 years. Next month, the affable New Yorker leaves after 27 years as a national television personality and the voice for all dogs.

Frei, who ends the long run Feb. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden broadcasting the Groups and Best in Show finals of the iconic sports event on USA Network, says, “I am humbled and proud with how far this broadcast has progressed nationally in over a quarter century. I am also proud of how I have represented our sport to the 'outside world.'"

"I am also proud of how I have represented our sport to the 'outside world.'"

Frei also served as communications director for the Westminster Kennel Club from 2003-2015. He moved to NBC Sports late last year and will continue to broadcast The National Dog Show presented by Purina® Pro Plan® on Thanksgiving Day for the network. He is also looking forward to “other projects” with the network in his specialty in the near future.

“When I started, I think people were in a wait-and-see mode for me," Frei recalls of his early Westminster telecasts. "But my combination of backgrounds in sports and in dogs helped me succeed and bring people around. Through the years, I have made many great friendships in the dog-show world, media, and the general public.”

Frei cites his greatest challenge as “getting our messages to the general public, whether they are dog owners or not.” Time parameters on the telecast limit his ability to tout the special qualities the purebred dog has to offer, hence he has utilized other opportunities on TV, radio, newspapers, internet, and personal appearances to spread the word. His reputation built on his years in the booth has helped make him a credible and reliable spokesperson for the sport and a popular source for the media.

Dave Frei in the TV booth
Frei in the TV booth describing the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show proceedings on the Madison Square Garden floor to a national audience. He will broadcast his 27th and final show Feb. 15-16. Credit: Jack Grassa.

Frei’s other love – in addition to family and his own dogs – has been therapy dogs. After going to work full time for the Westminster Kennel Club in 2003, he founded (2004) and remains as president of Angel On A Leash, a therapy-dog organization affiliated with major hospitals and health care organizations and Ronald McDonald Houses nationwide.

I thought that Westminster should have a charity that worked in our community, worked with kids, and worked with dogs. It was the perfect fit. It was no surprise to me it grew so quickly, outgrowing Westminster.” Angel On A Leash is now an independent nonprofit charity.

"I thought that Westminster should have a charity that worked in our community, worked with kids, and worked with dogs."

On the post-show Wednesday media tour in New York City, the Best in Show entourage drops in at the Ronald McDonald House to visit the young oncology patients. “The owners and the handlers of the dog always tell me that it was most impactful stop of the busy tour.”

Best-in-Show winners "James" (English Springer Spaniel 2007) and "Rufus" (Bull Terrier 2006), who went on to do great things as therapy dogs helped keep that in the mind with a lot of people, Frei adds.

Frei continues to work hard for Angel On A Leash. He and his two dogs, Angel (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and Grace (Brittany), regularly visit the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House in New York and soon at the New York University Langone Medical Center.

Frei with his own dogs, Angel and Grace
Frei with his own dogs, Angel and Grace, in a promotional shoot, last November at NBC’s National Dog Show presented by Purina. Credit: Betsy Dallas.

Asked to list some of his top Westminster memories, Frei cited:

"Uno," the Beagle that won Best in Show in 2008: It started with the crowd reaction in the Garden when Dr. Jones pointed. It was incredible. I thought they were going to storm the court like the Knicks had just won the seventh game of a NBA championship series. Then, with Uno in the year following, we visited the White House, Walter Reed National Medical Center, rode on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, threw out the first pitch at two major-league baseball games, visited Ronald McDonald Houses around the country, did a red carpet walk with Hollywood celebrities and much more. There will never be another Uno.”

"It started with the crowd reaction ... I thought they were going to storm the court like the Knicks had just won the seventh game of a NBA Championship."
Uno Dog guest in 2009 Westminster telecast
Uno was a special guest in the open for the 2009 Westminster telecast, with help from Frei and co-host Mary Carillo. Credit: Jack Grassa.

Chet Collier, longtime show chair and Westminster Kennel Club president: “The opportunity to work with this TV genius who built the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show into what it is today. He hired me in 1990 and mentored me until his death in 2007. In his other life, he was one of the creators of Fox News Channel. I was honored to be one of three people asked to speak at his memorial service along with Roger Ailes from Fox News and Chet’s son, Rich.”

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show chair and club president Chet Collier is interviewed by David Frei on the floor of Madison Square Garden
Longtime Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show chair and club president Chet Collier is interviewed by David Frei on the floor of Madison Square Garden following Collier's Best in Show selection in 2000 of the English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Salilyn ‘N Erin’s Shameless (Samantha). Credit: Mary Bloom

2002 Westminster live salute on the floor to the heroic search and rescue dogs of 9/11: “The presentation of the dogs and people was beautiful, and brilliantly produced by Chet Collier and Tom Bradley.”

2004 and beyond with Angel on a Leash: "A wonderful salute to the Angel dogs in 2009 on the floor at the Garden featured Josh Bleill, a double-amputee Marine war hero who was visited by Uno the previous year at Walter Reed National Medical Center. The crowd stood and cheered and cried for Josh, who walked out onto the floor in short pants and showing his two prosthetic legs.”

Serving as spokesman for the purebred dog world: “This has come with the job. I feel the greatest pressures and take the greatest pride in speaking for purebred dogs and responsible breeders and owners in the sport. I hope to keep doing that no matter what else is happening in my life.”

Friends in the sport who have been at most (or all) Westminsters that he has done for TV: “These friendships have stretched far beyond the two days of the show and well into my life.”

His TV partners through the years:“Joe Garagiola [9 years], Mary Carillo [6], Lester Holt [3], Al Trautwig [3], Mark McEwen [2], Bud Collins, Debbye Turner, Tamron Hall, Erika Hill. Al was my partner for three of the first four years, and he and Joe taught me a lot about the business.”

His other favorite winners through the years: “Kirby [Papillon, 1999]; Mick [Kerry Blue Terrier, 2003]; Rufus [Bull Terrier, 2006]; James [English Springer Spaniel, 2007].”

Post-show media tours on Wednesday with the Best in Show winner: “All the network morning shows; the Empire State Building; lunch at Sardi’s restaurant; ringing the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange; and a host of wonderful media friends.”

Best In Show winner Sky (Wire Fox Terrier GCH Afterall Painting the Sky)
On the "TODAY" in 2014, Best In Show winner Sky (Wire Fox Terrier GCH Afterall Painting the Sky) holds court with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford. Frei and handler Gabriel Rangel helped where they could. Credit: Jack Grassa.

Growing Westminster in so many ways: "From 150 media credentials issued in the year before I became communications director [2003] to more than 800 now. Creating the Westminster guide and record book along with the Westminster poster, the breed streaming video during the two days of competition, and more. I’m leaving my fingerprints behind, proudly.”