This week, for the seventh time, Joe Garagiola will host USA Network's coverage of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Monday and Tuesday, 8 p.m.) live from Madison Square Garden. Before he ever saw a pointer point, a retriever retrieve or a Shih Tzu win Best of Breed, Garagiola was acquainted with a rare variety of pooch. "When I was in grade school my friend had an Italian police dog," says Garagiola.
An Italian police dog?
"When it barked," says Garagiola, "it went 'Baaa, baaa."
Garagiola, himself an Italian Hairless, annually disarms Westminster with his regular-guy badinage. More than 150 breeds, and 2,500 canines, will compete. Last year the second night's ratings reached 4.1, an alltime high for the event. "I react to what I see more than I inform the viewer," admits Garagiola, who will turn 74 on Saturday. "I wonder aloud why a guy with a $900 suit puts Alpo in his pocket."
If Garagiola wants to converse more knowledgeably with his USA on-air partner, David Frei, he can log on to www.westminsterkennelclub.org. The site provides information and illustrations on every breed entered. "These animals are true athletes," says Garagiola, a former big league catcher who was never best in The Show, "even though lots of folks pay to watch them compete and say that they're not athletes at all. That's one thing the dogs and me have in common."