On Thanksgiving Day, as the collard greens simmer, dog-lovers nationwide may glimpse Otto, Raleigh’s hometown schnauzer, trotting across their TV screens with his coat moussed to perfection.
Only a puppy, Otto will join more than 2,000 contestants in the National Dog Show in Philadelphia – a staple of Thanksgiving holiday viewing that airs just after the Macy’s parade. When his coat is fully blow-dried – a process that takes 45 minutes – he will aim for glory in a canine competition only slightly less prestigious than the Westminster Kennel Club.
“He is definitely an alert and flashy dog,” said Amelia Hedemark, his co-owner in Raleigh. “He never lets his tail down in the ring.”
This year’s pack of National Dog Show pooches includes 10 from the Triangle, some of them tested champions and some – such as Otto – who are first-timers gathering points on the circuit.
Unlike the Westminster, this show welcomes any AKC registered dog and is the only competition that appears on network TV – sandwiched and heavily hyped between the parade and the Washington Redskins-New York Giants game on NBC.
And while the national broadcast tends to show the latest rounds, the best of breeds and best of show, a newcomer such as Otto might still charm his way to airtime.
“I’ve always watched it,” said Janice Reilly of Cary, who is showing her Portuguese water dog, “and I thought it would be fun to go.”
While any dog show involves a grooming regimen that borders on wedding-day excess, the National turns competitive canines into Marie Antoinette.
“It always cracks people up,” said Marni Sharoff, showing a pair of Shetland sheepdogs named Blair and Taylor from Chapel Hill. “They get dyed with hair dye. It’s kind of like a beauty pageant for dogs. A lot of the products we use are people products. You do different things to accentuate different features. You might have to do a little more poofing on one part. We use baby powder a lot.”
The spruce-up procedure for Reilly’s Portuguese water dog, Carbon, gets even more complicated because of the need for historical accuracy.
“It’s an ancient breed,” she explained. “They go back to the 800s. The whole purpose was to help the Portuguese fishermen retrieve items that fell overboard. They could courier messages from ship to ship. The fishermen would keep their rears shaved so they wouldn’t get caught in the nets as easily. The kept the front half long to protect their internal organs. It’s a reverse mullet. Party in the front. Business in the back.”
For Ben, an Airedale terrier from Fuquay-Varina, a spin across the National’s floor requires running a specialized knife through his curly coat.
“You’re literally pulling his hair out by hand,” said owner Whitney Meeks.
The show actually takes place Saturday and Sunday, airing at noon on Thanksgiving Day. So Otto and company will know how they fared before TV fans.
But at the National’s finish, whether or not the Triangle pooches collect a ribbon, they gather experience under the brightest spotlights and the most discerning eyes – the food prize-winners.
And if that isn’t satisfying enough, the hotel has leftover turkey.
How to watch
NBC will air “The National Dog Show” on Thanksgiving Day between noon and 2 p.m., following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It will be hosted by John O’Hurley, who played J. Peterman on “Seinfeld.”