DARIEN — Gail Miller Bisher had a busy few days with her client Flynn last week: a spot on “Good Morning America,” photo shoots around New York City, a dinner at Sardi’s, a cameo on Broadway and a turn ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
None of this is unusual for Bisher, but what is unusual is her client — he’s the 5-year-old bichon frise who won the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club dog show this month.
This sort of routine is old hat for Bisher. The Darien resident has been working as director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club since 2015 and serving as the “voice of Westminster” and an analyst since 2016. But the St. Louis native has been around dogs her whole life.
“I actually grew up showing dogs,” Bisher said in a phone interview following Flynn’s media tour after his win. “My parents bred show dogs and my mom was a judge, and I’m an American Kennel Club-licensed judge as well.”
Bisher actually showed one of her own dogs, a bearded collie named John, in the Westminster annual dog show and placed second with him in junior showmanship. She went on to pursue a career in advertising and produced TV commercials for 12 years, but stayed involved in the world of dog shows before moving to New York to take a job with the American Kennel Club as its spokeswoman for five years. She took four years off to stay at home with her daughter before joining the Westminster Kennel Club, who she’d worked with previously on a contract basis.
“I like to have the opportunity to educate dog lovers and people getting dogs,” she said.
“One of the big parts of Westminster is education. ... We emphasize education quite a bit, but the other big educational tool is the history behind the breeds.”
Part of this education includes the booth show, which preludes the competition. During Meet the Breeds, the public can see the dogs on display and talk to the breeders and owners to determine if a certain breed is right for their lifestyle.
A good portion of Bisher’s commentary during the Westminster show is about the history of the breed, including their original purpose.
“(There’s a) story and history and work and explanation behind every single breed,” Bisher said. “(People) often think it’s a beauty contest. It’s not. The judges are judging the dog based on a written standard.”
Bisher said the dogs are evaluated based on how closely they resemble and have the skills of their breed. Her commentary is crafted to address this, as well as reach viewers who watch the televised show for the cuteness factor.
“We have two audiences,” she said. “We have an audience of people who are really involved and want to know how many Best-in-Show awards this dog won and where. Then there’s the general dog-loving public who want to hear ‘This is Fifi, who likes to lay on the sofa and get her belly rubbed.’ We have a little bit of both and we like to mix it up.”
When Bisher isn’t preparing for the February show, she works on creating content for the show’s website and digitizing its archives to help preserve the history of the program. She’s also working on a video series called “Road to Westminster,” where she goes to dog shows around the country and talks to handlers.
“The most important (thing) is explaining what the sport is,” she said. “All they see is the TV show. They don’t see all the work that goes into it beforehand. All the breeders, owners and handlers are working all year ’round training dogs, grooming dogs, keeping them in good physical condition. ... There’s so much that comes in before the ‘Superbowl of Dogs,’ how there are really dedicated people who love to spend their time and money on their pet. We encourage anyone who loves dogs to come to a show and learn more.”
In her spare time, Bisher is preparing to welcome a new puppy, an English cocker spaniel, in the wake of losing two dachshunds last year. She said she purposely waited until the show was over to have more time to devote to her new furry friend.