The Westminster Dog show highlights the best and brightest of the upper echelon of dogs, but how many people actually have a show dog at home? What about all the rescue dogs — when do they get to shine?
Fear not, “The American Rescue Dog Show” is back to highlight our furry friends of all lineage.
Michael Levitt Productions — helmed by Palm Springs resident Michael Levitt — brings the TV special “The American Rescue Dog Show” to ABC on Wednesday. The special, which first aired in 2018, is a riff on “The Westminster Dog Show,” but all the competing dogs are rescues.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, over 3.1 million dogs enter shelters each year. Of these, more than 390,000 are euthanized. While that number is devastating, it is down from over 2.6 million in 2011, so progress is being made. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners.
The good news, however, is that over 2 million dogs find their forever homes each year.
“The American Rescue Dog Show” is a two-hour joyous celebration of these four-legged friends. Rescue pups will compete for such honors as “Best in Belly Rubs,” “Best in Snoring,” and “Best in Underbite,” to name just a few. The winners from each category will then compete to be crowned “Best in Rescue” of 2022.
A $10,000 donation to a local animal welfare organization will be made in honor of the winning dog in each category, and each category winner will have the chance to be named “Best In Rescue” and earn an additional $100,000 donation. Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore host the special with ESPN’s Monica McNutt serving as sideline correspondent. Yvette Nicole Brown (“Community”), Leslie Jordan (“Will & Grace”) and Paula Abdul (no explanation needed) are this year’s celebrity judges.
Levitt, an Emmy award nominee who lives in the Coachella Valley and specializes in non-scripted and live content shows, created the show with fellow producers Jill Goularte and Jennifer Schulz.
It came about due to a tragic event in Levitt’s life.
“In 2011, when my sister was dying of cancer, I knew I needed a dog in my life,” Levitt told The Desert Sun. “My partner Marc and I rescued a pit bull named Trooper. He rocked our world and I learned firsthand that adage of ‘Who Rescued Who?”
Trooper came into Levitt’s life exactly when he need him. The dog helped Levitt through his grieving process, and because the experience of adopting him was so impactful, Levitt decided to take a year-long hiatus from his other TV work to focus on projects that save dogs.
“I started creating rescue-themed programming that could have an impact on a national level,” Levitt said. “To date, I’ve produced six primetime rescue-themed specials. … The exposure we get from spotlighting rescue dogs on ABC and Hulu is massive and truly a dream come true for me.”
Along with Trooper, Levitt and his partner have adopted two more rescue dogs, Nelson and Archie. All three are senior pit bulls, a breed that has a bad reputation born from people breeding them to be aggressive fight dogs.
“They are smart, gentle, funny and they are wonderful ambassadors for the breed. I am so proud to be their dad,” he said.
Like Westminster, the rescue dogs on this program show their stuff in a fancy arena, surrounded by celebrity judges all dressed for the occasion. The difference is that on “The American Rescue Dog Show,” they are not judged on their bloodlines or conformation, they are celebrated for their “perfect imperfections,” Levitt said.
Along with the aforementioned awards, these dogs compete for titles in much more relatable categories such as “Best in Snoring,” “Best in Underbite,” “Best in Talking” and “Best in Couch Potato.”
Levitt’s hope is that seeing these dogs on their screen will encourage viewers to consider rescuing a pooch of their own.
“The cuteness overload on this show is off the charts,” he said. “From puppies to seniors, special needs dogs, purebreds, mutts and pit bulls…what all of them have in common is they are affectionate, loving and so eager to please.”
Levitt urges people to adopt from shelters particularly because most dogs up for adoption don’t have issues, “people failed them.”
“These dogs deserve a second chance,” he said. “And when people rescue, it makes the experience of being a dog parent all the more rewarding because these dogs know you’ve saved their life and they let you know it every single day.”
Beyond sharing the beauty of pet adoption, Levitt hopes the show reminds people how important it is to spay and neuter their dogs and cats.
“Shelters are overflowing because people are irresponsible and don’t fix their animals,” he said. “There’s so many misconceptions about spay and neuter responsible. The bottom line is, people fix their animals because they understand there’s an overpopulation of animals with no place to go.”
Whatever you choose to do to help make a rescue’s life better, keep in mind that local shelters always need support. Whether you want to walk, feed, or even read to animals, Levitt noted there are various volunteer opportunities in the Coachella Valley.
And if you don’t have time to volunteer, Levitt added that people can always drop off newspapers, blankets and other supplies at shelters, or simply share their posts on social media.
“All it takes is one share… one of your followers might just be that person that ends up adopting that dog. That’s pretty powerful!”
“The American Rescue Dog Show” will air at 9 p.m. PST on Wednesday on ABC, and will also be available to stream on Hulu.
How to help
If “The American Rescue Dog Show” inspires you, here are some Coachella Valley shelters: