An annual Thanksgiving tradition at Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, the National Dog Show is celebrating 20 years this year—and John O’Hurley has been its host from the beginning. Well known for his role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, O’Hurley has a great deal to say about canines in his three books, Before the Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It, It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump and The Perfect Dog (which inspired the musical of the same name). The year’s show will be held Nov. 20–21.
MLT: Tell us about your first dog.
JO: Taffy was a dachshund—my non-stop everywhere companion in my early years. She’d follow me to the pond and sit with me on a rock outcropping near the tracks to experience the train passing by. As we waited together, I’d talk to her about the problems that only a young boy can have. She was the wise old dog in my first book.
MLT: You’ve said, “Dogs are the only tangible proof that there are angels walking on earth.” What did you mean?
JO: Simply, I’m a better person with a dog on my lap—I can only hope to be as good and gentle as my dog. They never talk back, have no sense of memory. “Now” is all there is—they help us manage the burden of time.
MLT: Other than a deep appreciation of dogs, what drew you to the National Dog Show?
JO: Some might say I’ve had an erratic career, but I always follow my imagination. And when the concept was presented to me, my imagination said, “Do it.” Twenty years later, I can’t say I was wrong. There’s something staggeringly unique about the show. It’s noncontroversial, non-regional, non-athletic and enjoyable whether you’re 4 or 94. Where other televised awards ceremonies are losing their audience, we have a bigger viewership every year (26 million in 2020). Everyone is trying to add a dog event to their programming.
MLT: Do you have a standout funniest memory from the show?
JO: Easily. Four to five years into the show, a Great Dane who was one of seven finalists for Best in Show was being paraded in front of us when he stopped dead, looked me straight in the eye and made a very large editorial comment on my performance. It stopped everything and essentially took men in hazmat suits to clean up. It was a very large comment.