Editor’s note: The following feature story is reprinted from the November/December issue of Dogs Unleashed magazine. If you’d like to subscribe to Dogs Unleashed, click here.
By MARY ULLMER
Editor, Dogs Unleashed
John O’Hurley, the man with the perfect voice, has found the perfect dog.
The multi-talented star, perhaps best known for his role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, discovered the perfect dog last year as he was preparing for his role as host of the annual National Dog Show Presented by Purina, which airs on Thanksgiving Day on NBC.
A couple nights before last year’s show, O’Hurley relaxed on the couch with his then 5-year-old son, Will, in his arms. Part of O’Hurley’s role with the National Dog Show is creating entertaining segments for the viewing audience.
Suddenly, the idea came to O’Hurley and he created the poem “The Perfect Dog.” In the poem, his son asks, “What is the perfect dog?” and, in Dr. Seuss fashion, O’Hurley does his best to find the answer.
In a video piece that aired during last year’s National Dog Show and received rave reviews, O’Hurley and his son search the event’s benching area where visitors can meet all the breed entries and chat with breeders. O’Hurley’s perfect voice recites the poem he had come up with just a couple days earlier.
The poem since has become a children’s book, The Perfect Dog, available at amazon.com. The book includes photos of dogs and O’Hurley’s son. And the cover features a photo of Will’s dog, Puppy, a stuffed animal.
“Puppy follows him around everywhere,” O’Hurley said. “We have two dogs at home (a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Sadie, and a Havanese, Lucy) that we cuddle with, but Puppy is his.
“He’s very excited about the book coming out because, obviously, there are copies of it that will be donated to his school and he’s going to be doing a reading. There aren’t many first-graders who have their own book.”
It shouldn’t be too difficult for Will to recite the book to his classmates. He has the poem memorized, O’Hurley said.
“I wrote it with him lying in my arms two nights before the show, so it’s kind of neat that just a year later here it is as a book,” he said.
Even before The Perfect Dog was published, it was touted by the Children’s Book of the Month Club. That’s not surprising, given O’Hurley’s previous success as an author.
His first book, It’s OK to Miss the Bed on the First Jump, made The New York Times bestseller list. He wasn’t aware of the book’s success until he received a phone call while at the hospital after the birth of Will in 2006.
“Will was born about 11:30 the night before, so I stayed in the room with my wife, Lisa. I had a cot in there,” O’Hurley said. “I woke up the following morning and I got this phone call and it was from New York. I was kind of in a daze from being up so late the night before. … They said, ‘Congratulations.’ I said, ‘Thank you very much, mother and child are doing wonderfully.’
“They said, ‘No, your book hit the New York Times bestseller list.’ So, it was a happy day all around.”
O’Hurley has experienced success in just about everything he has done. Not only is he known by millions for his four-year stint on Seinfeld, he also is the voice of King Neptune on the wildly popular cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants. He hosted the TV game show Family Feud and was declared the winner of the inaugural season of Dancing With The Stars.
He currently stars in the stage production of Chicago and has several stage appearances to his credit, including Spamalot. Perhaps a lesser-known fact about O’Hurley’s career: He’s also an accomplished composer. He has released two CDs, Peace of Our Minds (2005) and Secrets from the Lake (2008).
But it’s his love of dogs that has helped make him a successful author. Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do it: Life Lessons for a Wise Old Dog to a Young Boy was his follow-up to It’s OK to Miss the Bed on the First Jump and was inspired by his Maltese, Schoshi, who lived to be 21.
“In my first book, the premise was that dogs really teach us everything we need to know in life in terms of life lessons, so that’s why it was entitled It’s OK to Miss the Bed on the First Jump,” O’Hurley said. “Schoshi really was the model for the second book, lessons on manhood to my son. Schoshi totally distrusted that I would be able to teach anything on the nature of manhood to my son, so he took it upon himself to leave a series of notes under the foot of the big blue elephant that sat in the chair in my son’s room. So they’re little scraps of paper, little sayings on manhood … as best [Schoshi] understood them.”
O’Hurley has had dogs as far back as he can remember, starting with a Dachshund when he was 4.
“That dog kind of followed me everywhere, on all my little adventures at the swamp near our house in Boston,” O’Hurley said.
He has had rescue dogs and purebred dogs and has “no qualms or prejudice either way, nor do I think anyone should.” For those who might criticize dog shows for celebrating and developing purebred dogs, O’Hurley points out the main message of both dog shows and dog breeders.
“It celebrates the rich history of breeding, and breeding is an important part of responsible dog ownership,” he said. “They’re trying to secure the history of these breeds, and I think there is a certain place for that. It doesn’t mean a dog is less lovable if they’re not purebred, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage adoption among people that don’t want to choose purebred dogs.
“But part of the whole program of the American Kennel Club and corresponding organizations is to teach responsible ownership of pets and that it’s a lifelong commitment and not something to be taken whimsically or temporarily. Unfortunately, too many of our shelters are filled with examples of people that don’t take [pet ownership] seriously. ”
DOG SHOW GUY
O’Hurley has been involved with the National Dog Show since NBC began televising it in 2002, Jon Miller of NBC Sports took home a copy of the film Best in Show, a satirical look at the dog show world.
“He came in Monday morning and said, ‘I know what we’re going to do with the two-hour time slot we have on Thanksgiving Day. … We’re going to do a dog show,’ ” O’Hurley said. “Before they laughed him out of the office, he was able to license the show from the Philadelphia Kennel Club and had Purina jump on as a sponsor.
“The next day, he called me in Los Angeles … and said, ‘Woof, woof.’ And that’s how it started. He had me at ‘Woof, woof.’ ”
O’Hurley teams with analyst David Frei at the National Dog Show. Frei is communications director for the Westminster Kennel Club and serves as analyst of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — the “Super Bowl” of dog shows — each February.
“We had never met [before the National Dog Show]. It was a blind date,” O’Hurley said. “But we became fast friends. He’s one of the most gracious and generous people, with the therapy dogs he helps to sponsor around the country and with his ‘Angels on a Leash’ program … it really is quite spectacular.”
Frei has a mutual admiration for O’Hurley.
“He’s a class guy, and I’m fortunate to have a guy like that as a [broadcasting] partner,” Frei said. “We’re good friends and have done a lot of family things together. If he didn’t live in L.A. and us in New York, we’d be doing a lot more.”
Frei said some of his favorite moments during the show come when O’Hurley seems to slip back to his Seinfeld days.
“It’s also fun because I’m a big Seinfeld fan,” Frei said. “So it’s fun to be sitting there sometimes and we’re watching the monitor or maybe doing a voice-over and he’ll say something. I’ll say, ‘That’s Peterman. … Where’s Jerry?’ And I look around for Jerry. And my wife is great at quoting the dialogue [from Seinfeld] to him, and he’ll bounce right back with a response that’s a scripted response.”
And what kind of dog would O’Hurley’s Seinfeld character own?
“My instinct … the first thing that pops into my mind is an Irish setter,” O’Hurley said. “I think since they’re not making dogs out of really exotic corduroy … I think there is something about the Irish setter that kind of bespeaks the whole Peterman — the auburn coat, the outdoor type of dog. I think Irish setter accessorizes the Peterman outfit perfectly.”
LESSONS FROM THE DOG
O’Hurley said his favorite thing about hosting the National Dog Show isn’t necessarily the show itself.
“I think my favorite thing is really not in the ring,” he said. “It’s when my wife and I get to walk up and down the aisles and there’s more than 2,000 dogs there, 170 breeds, and it’s just a wonderful day, a spirited day. Everybody’s happy.
“That’s the wonderful thing about being around dogs. Nobody’s in a bad mood. When you put 15, 20, 25,000 people in an arena and everybody’s in a good mood because they’re around the dogs, it’s a joyful experience every year.”
O’Hurley, who also has a motivational speech program he presents to colleges and businesses titled The Peterman Guide to an Extraordinary Life, said people can learn a lot from dogs. The main lesson, he said, is to live in the moment.
“Dogs have no sense of future and they have no sense of past,” he said. “If you don’t believe me, if you try to reprimand a dog for something they did 15 minutes ago on the carpet, I guarantee you they’ve already forgiven themselves for it.
“They live moment to moment to moment, and I think that’s the greatest lesson they teach. They’re always joyful because they’re not worried. They forgive themselves very easily and they have very few expectations beyond the present moment. And whatever you’re doing is infinitely more interesting than what they were thinking of doing.
“If you think about it, for we mere humans, time is the biggest burden we have. Most of our stress is caused by either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. But for people who live in the present moment, like all dogs do, they have very few worries and very little stress.”