Dog gone: Frei set to host 27th, final Westminster telecast

NEW YORK (AP) He's become the face of dogs, with a voice as gentle as a Saint Bernard, as friendly as a chocolate Lab.

David Frei makes it all feel so familiar, heading this week into his 27th and final year hosting the Westminster Kennel Club show telecast.

It wasn't always that way.

There was that time, long ago, when he looked at the monitor and was mortified – playing on the air was a piece featuring a nasty boxer training attack dogs.

''Where did that come from?'' Frei asked, to anyone who would listen.

Since then, the broadcasts have gone as smoothly as a perfectly primped Pekingese.

Frei routinely offers up a mix of insight, advice and information. Neapolitan mastiffs, for example, are judged by the ''wham'' method – that's wrinkles, head and mass.

And he loves to reassure viewers ''that the real best in show is the dog you have on the couch next to you.''

By his count, Frei has watched over 72,000 dogs from the TV tower above the ring at Madison Square Garden. Since 1990, he's shared the perch with notable company – NBC ''Nightly News'' anchor Lester Holt, former ''Today'' show host Joe Garagiola, tennis expert Bud Collins and current sidekick Mary Carillo, among others.

Starting Monday night on CNBC, Frei begins the countdown toward best in show. The next evening on USA Network, the winner gets picked.

After that, time to bow out.

''I'm sure I'll probably pop into the melancholy about 10 p.m. Tuesday night,'' he said.

Many watchers know Frei from his commentary, along with actor John O'Hurley, on the NBC telecasts of the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving Day.

Going forward, Frei is strictly with NBC. The Westminster telecast is moving to Fox Sports 1 next February for 10 years, and the kennel club management didn't want him doing both its show and the National.

Last October, Frei finished up 12 years as director of communications for the WKC.

''I have had a wonderful 27 years with the Westminster Kennel Club,'' he said. ''To do the television broadcast and to speak for the world of purebred dogs – and all dogs, really – is something I will always treasure and continue to treasure as I move on.

''And while I'm sad this is my final Westminster telecast, I'm very excited to continue my National Dog Show role on NBC for the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, I am delighted to continue my Angel On A Leash charity, and I am thrilled to work with NBC on some exciting projects moving forward,'' he said.

His decision delighted Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports.

''He gives you instant credibility,'' Miller said. ''There's no one out there who can do what David Frei can.''

Said Westminster president Sean McCarthy: ''We had the right of refusal, and we wanted David to work this final show. It's fitting and right.''

The 66-year-old Frei leaves with his paw prints all over Westminster. He arranged for the Empire State Building to be lit in the club's purple and gold during the show, and helped set up the traditional, day-after visit for the winner with Donald Trump.

''I'm proud of how I've represented our sport to the outside world,'' Frei said.

Especially since he came from another sport.

As a teen, he roamed the sidelines when his father, Jerry, was the head football coach at Oregon. Those teams included future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and Ahmad Rashad, then known as Bobby Moore.

Jerry Frei later became an NFL assistant coach and scout. On Westminster telecasts, David often wears the Super Bowl ring his dad earned when the Denver Broncos won in 1999.

''Great win last weekend,'' Frei added.

Frei later went to work for the Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and ABC Sports, handling publicity for the likes of O.J Simpson and Howard Cosell.

Over the years, Frei became involved with breeding, showing and judging dogs. He also created Angel On A Leash, pairing therapy dogs with hospitals, rehabilitation centers, the Ronald McDonald House and other places.

Frei's wife, Cherilyn, is a chaplain and director of family services at the Ronald McDonald House in New York, a few blocks from their Manhattan apartment.

At home, the Freis have two dogs, Angel the cavalier King Charles spaniel and Grace the Brittany. A sign on the back of the front door advises ''Wag More Bark Less.''

In his Upper East Side neighborhood, Frei is a fixture.

As he recently walked to a favorite local restaurant, he stopped to pet a couple of dogs he knows. As Frei passed another popular spot, a pal spotted him.

''Hey, Westminster guy!'' the man called out.