Despite appearances, Treeing Walker Coonhound (above) does not refer to a dance step popular during the Confederacy. If you had attended The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Show over the weekend, you’d have known that.
I made up the part about the Confederate dance step, but you get my point. As it turns out, the Treeing Walker Coonhound is one of two new breeds, along with the Russell Terrier, to be officially recognized this year by the American Kennel Club. That brings the total to 187.
In the Dog Show universe, these things are as serious as heart attacks. To me, the bizarre labels smack of snobbery and elitism. Then again, what do I know? I just happen to love all dogs, mine in particular.
Maybe it’s a case of sour biscuits on my part. Neither of my dogs would win any ribbons, given their temperaments. Joey, my goofy Old English Sheepdog, would go home with the first spectator who gave her a cookie. Rudy, my psychotic Westie, would have to be heavily sedated for the duration.
Nonetheless, my curiosity was piqued by the Treeing Walker Coonhound – if only for the name itself — as I wandered past some 2,000 canines quartered at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.
To educate myself, I sought out David Frei, expert analyst for NBC’s annual Thanksgiving Day telecasts of the National Dog Show. (This year’s taped event will air from noon to 2 p.m. on NBC10, following the Macy’s Parade.)
First, I asked Frei to translate Treeing Walker Coonhound. “Treeing” means chasing prey up into trees during a hunt, making them easier to kill. “Walker” refers to Thomas Walker, who imported the English Foxhound to Virginia in 1742. “Coonhound” means it goes after raccoons.
Hardly the bloodlines of an aristocrat, I thought. But wait, what would that matter to a dog? Obviously nada, says Frei, communications director for the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club.
“These show dogs are the same as everybody else’s family dogs. Their owners just happen to dress them up a little and go to dog shows every weekend. At home, they run around and eat the furniture and drink out of the toilet.”
Frei, 63, son of former University of Oregon football coach Jerry Frei, never had a dog when he was a kid. He got his first, an Afghan hound, as a student at the university. His girlfriend insisted. Three months later, “the girl left, the dog stayed, and it was the right decision for all of us,” he says.
For 30 years, Frei bred and showed Afghan hounds. In 2002, he moved from five acres in Seattle to 700 square feet in New York, and the breeding part ended. He and his wife, Cherilyn, have a Brittany, Grace, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Angel.
Does Frei, as do many of us, like dogs better than people? He puts it this way: “My dogs are always wagging their tails when I come around. When I talk to them, they look at me like I’m some kind of genius. I don’t always get that kind of respect in my circle of friends.”
Frei’s all-time favorite show dog, paws down, is Uno, the adorable Beagle that won Westminster’s Best in Show in 2008. For the next year, he squired his furry BFF to appearances around the country, including a stop at the White House. Ticketed as Uno Frei, the dog even had his own airline seat next to Frei.
What made Uno so special “was his personality, his temperament, his approach to life,” says Frei. “He knew when to howl.”