Before sitting down to work each morning, I always stand in front of the glass door that separates my small apartment from my even smaller terrace. With a luke-warm mug of coffee I squint out at the narrow street below and try to see the morning dog walkers go by, many of whom make me laugh as they plead with their dogs to hurry up and “do it” because they’re late for work. In the warm weather, the trees with their shimmering greenery block my vision and I have to cock my head to the side to follow the dogs waddling down the street, a sniff here and leg-raise there and a squirt-squirt everywhere.
The chill of winter is blowing in off the river and thousands of leaves have thinned out, and started to brittle into brown, falling to the sidewalk faster than middle-aged hair. I used to think that the leaves fell off the trees because of the cold wind. I have since come to understand that the process of photosynthesis is responsible — you know, shorter days, less sunlight, no more chlorophyll, slow-flowing sap, a seasonal cardiac arrest. It’s a metaphor for many things beyond trees because very little is what you thought it was. Such is the case of the Glen of Imaal Terrier, a loving, playful, sweetheart of a dog that I recently met for the first time. Here in America we think it’s a new breed, but far from it.
Autumn in Manhattan is like a French tragedy. Out of something sad comes something bright and good, maybe even better. I hate the end of summer because the cold is coming and nature turns gray. On the other hand, it’s when the dog and cat world stirs and stretches like a bear coming out of hibernation, getting ready for another season of big-time competition and all the interesting and exhilarating side shows that pop up in an effervescent frenzy. In October, I attended and was part of the CFA’s Cat Show New York at Madison Square Garden where I autographed many copies of my new book, “The Cat Fanciers’ Association Complete Cat Book; Official Publication of the CFA.” (HarperCollins). Thousands upon thousands of cat lovers attended, and some couldn’t even get in because of the crowds. We will do it all over again on November 18th through the 21st at the CFA International Cat Show held in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Once there, they will plant me alternately at the CFA booth and at the Cat Writers’ Association Book Signing Booth to autograph copies of my new book. It’s sort of a big deal and I’m looking forward to it. And then there’s the Cat Writers’ Association Conference which will also be in Houston at the same time. Now I am really looking forward to that. I get to see all my old friends and learn something new about writing.
Anyway, ten days after the Madison Square Garden event, I took the subway from Greenwich Village to the upper west side to a press lunch at Ruby Foo’s, one of New York’s best Chinese restaurants, so that I could hear all about the upcoming “National Dog Show Presented by Purina.” (That’s the title, no kidding.) It’s the third year this big, benched show will be taped and edited down from a two day competition into a two-hour TV program. NBC will air it on Thursday, November 25th, from noon to 2 PM, immediately following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Kennel Club of Philadelphia presents the actual dog show on November 13th and 14th at Fort Washington, Pennsylvania where NBC tapes it for later airing.
Over lobster egg rolls, shrimp dumplings and a cornucopia of Cantonese Dim Sum (writers love this) we were addressed by the bright and good-natured David Frei, commentator for The National Dog Show, which he co-hosts on TV with actor John O’Hurley, of the hit TV series “Seinfeld.” Frei is the quintessential dog man and does it all. He is one of the most authoritative voices in the dog show world today. He is an AKC-licensed judge, an accomplished breeder of Afghan hounds and Brittany spaniels, director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club. He is also the on-camera host for USA Network’s TV coverage of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from Madison Square Garden, as well as the co-author of the successful book, “The Angel by My Side.” David Frei is a commanding presence on the dog scene today.
Since Frei is the on-camera host for both events, I asked what the difference was as TV events between the National Dog Show in the Philadelphia area and the Westminster show at Madison Square Garden. Aren’t they the same kind of show? His answer was good. He said that their approach to the National Dog Show was one of family entertainment while the approach to Westminster was one of education. He said more but I don’t have the time or the space to elaborate. I liked his answer, though. I thought it was honest and probably accurate. David Frei has great credibility.
“India,” AKC Champion, Glen of Imaal Terrier
Seated at my table and sharing all the Dim Sum on a huge glass turntable was the affable Bruce Sussman, owner-handler of “India,” a Glen of Imaal Terrier that will make her nation-wide TV debut at Philadelphia’s National Dog Show along with two other breeds, the Black Russian Terrier and the Neapolitan Mastiff. Her registered name is Ch. Royalty’s Star Over Coleraine and she is the first AKC Champion for the breed. If you didn’t know that India was a rare terrier breed from Ireland you’d swear she was a typical, good-natured, playful rascal that loves people and adores the fuss made over her.
Sussman is as interesting as his dog. He is the co-author of more than 200 published and recorded songs written for dozens of artists, films, TV programs and musicals. He wrote the majority of these with his collaborator of 30 years, Barry Manilow. He is the co-author of the musical, “Copacabana” with Jack Feldman and Barry Manilow and is the author of the book and lyrics for a new musical drama for Broadway titled, “Harmony.”
He is obviously more proud of the fact that his Glen of Imaal Terrier, India, won Best In Show, October 15th at the Gloucester Kennel Club, in the breed’s first sanctioned competition than all of his musical accomplishments, but that’s show business, isn’t it? Dog Show business, that is. India is co-owned by Robert Shuter and Maura High.
What is truly interesting is that this, the 153rd breed to be fully accepted by the American Kennel Club is introduced to us as one of our newest. Yet, the AKC accepted Standards tell us “There are documented reports of Glens at Irish dog shows as early as 1878.” I remember writing about the Glen of Imaal Terrier in a book edited by the late Roger Caras titled “The Dog Owners Bible” back in 1977. I wrote it under the name Stuart Street. Don’t ask. It was in a chapter titled, “Rare Breeds Not Recognized by the American Kennel Club.” I also included in that article descriptions of the Jack Russell Terrier, the Finnish Spitz, the Canaan Dog, the Dutch Shepherd Dog, the Portuguese Water Dog, Lowchen (Little Lion Dog), and of course, the Glen of Imaal Terrier. With the exception of the Dutch Shepherd dog, all these breeds have since been accepted for registration and show competition by the American Kennel Club. Ah, the times they are a-changing. Everything old is new again, just as the leaves will be on the trees outside my terrace next spring. It’s just a matter of time, isn’t it? Life is good.
Mordecai Siegal’s newest book is, “The Cat Fanciers’ Association COMPLETE CAT BOOK. The Official Publication of the CFA,” published by HarperCollins. It is a reference work comparable to the American Kennel Club Complete Dog Book. His most durable books are “Good Dog, Bad Dog (Henry Holt),” “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things (Little, Brown),” the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition of “I Just Got A Puppy. What Do I Do? (Simon & Schuster),” “The Cornell Book of Cats, Second Edition (Villard),” “The Davis Book of Dogs (HarperCollins),” “The Davis Book of Horses (HarperCollins).” He is President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America and a founding member of The Cat Writers’ Association.