Interview with Gail Miller Bisher, WKC Director of Communications
Gail Miller Bisher has lifelong experience in dog sports as a handler and trainer of top-winning dogs. Today, she serves as the Westminster Kennel Club’s director of communications, spokesperson, and on-air analyst for its iconic New York dog show on FOX and FS1.
How was this year’s News Media coverage of Westminster, given it was held at the Lyndhurst Estate again. How was it the second time around?
Gail Miller Bisher: For the News Media this year, we tried to connect our Manhattan history with our Westchester adventure. We decided to hold our Press Preview on Thursday, June 16, at Hudson Yards in Manhattan. It was very well-attended by national news, NYC media, and the primary wire services. I want to thank the owners who helped us with the Press Preview by bringing their dogs into Manhattan for this event, highlighting the new breeds, four “Hidden Gem” breeds, and Agility and Obedience demonstrations. Thank you to Missy Bisesti, Laurie Bowen, Lori Brady, Linda Brennan, Jeanine Dell’Orfano, Winona Fuller, Cheryl Kerr-Duff, Lisa Miller, Michael Pesare, Christina Potter, and Chris Stoddard.
In Tarrytown, significant national news and local news outlets joined us in person. We never tire of telling the purpose-bred dog story to the News Media and want to take full advantage of the opportunity when the spotlight is on our show, and we have so many exhibitors available for interviews.
For the Best in Show Media Tour, we were back in NYC, hitting the major morning shows, including Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, and Today Show. Then we held a press conference at our Champion’s Lunch hosted by Tavern On The Green. This event gave the News Media that couldn’t attend the show a chance to meet Heather and Trumpet and ask about this historic win by a Bloodhound. There was a photo opportunity at the top of the Empire State Building and a quick stop at the AKC headquarters to share the excitement and joy that only Trumpet can bring.
Were there any new surprises? Did you miss the company of this year’s BIS judge, Dr. Donald Sturz?
Gail Miller Bisher: The telecast was again special because of the event’s location in Tarrytown. It is a garden party that feels elegant and celebratory. In the broadcast booth on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, Jason Hoke and I were excited that Don would be judging Best in Show but we needed to focus on the beautiful winners in front of us. I was thrilled to have Jason next to me, and we felt very comfortable talking dogs after being apart for a few years. (Jason has been part of the live daytime programming with Kim Meredith for the past several years.) It was easy to get back into the rhythm. Unfortunately, we only have about :15 to :20 seconds per dog to speak, and sometimes the producer is in your ear telling you to stop talking because they have other video elements to include, etc. We know how much work has gone into getting these dogs to this point, so we try to get as much information as possible into this fast-paced, live television format.
Watching Don in the ring was awesome because we knew how excited he was for the assignment, and it was amazing to see all the love and support his friends and family had shown him in advance of his walking onto the green carpet.
The other telecast firsts were Remy Lewis-Smith filling in for Jason Hoke on the daytime programming and Johan Becerra-Hernandez serving as an analyst on our first FOX Deportes simulcast. Having these fanciers represent WKC and the sport on live television was exciting. Live TV is a very different experience, even for the media-savvy. I had complete confidence in these two representatives as they stepped into the role and shared their dog experiences and knowledge with our audience.
Daytime live-streaming of the show is now expected. How does this complement the live broadcasts at night on Fox Sports?
Gail Miller Bisher: Live-streaming is a staple of the WKC events because we want to share the competition with those fanciers who cannot attend, and with people interested in learning more about dogs.
Could you say a few words about Westminster’s significance to the sport of dogs in the 21st Century?
Gail Miller Bisher: History will tell the story, but from my perspective, the organization’s goal is to continue to fulfill its mission (to celebrate the companionship of dogs while promoting responsible dog ownership and breed preservation) by building on the foundation of the WKC Members of the past. Over a century of historic dog people have created Westminster, the essence and stature of the event. Today, Members strive to maintain the tradition of excellence, continue the mission of promoting purebred dogs, and ensure that the club and sport remain relevant.
In your opinion, how does Westminster reflect positively on the value of the Preservation Breeder?
Gail Miller Bisher: Each year, WKC uses its platform to educate the public about preservation breeders through PR messaging, social media campaigns, and telecast commentary. For 2022, in addition to promoting the two new breeds (Russian Toy and Mudi), we highlighted four “Hidden Gem” breeds. We selected breeds from different Groups that are low registration breeds. This year we featured the American Foxhound, Bergamasco Sheepdog, Skye Terrier, and Sussex Spaniel.
When talking with the News Media about these breeds, I could explain how these historic breeds are low in registration numbers but wouldn’t even be here today if it wasn’t for the dedicated preservation breeders who have maintained the breeds and produced generations of healthy dogs. We use AKC registration statistics and WKC show records to tell the story of how some of these beautiful breeds appeared at the first WKC show in 1877 or have been working companions for centuries. Today these breeds are vulnerable, so we want to celebrate them and the breeders who produce them. It’s important to help the public learn more about the qualities and rich histories of dog breeds.
As a former Junior Handler, what is the show’s significance to today’s Juniors? To their families?
Gail Miller Bisher: When a Junior competes at Westminster, I hope they feel pride in their accomplishments throughout the year and enjoy the experience on show day. The competition is deep in Juniors at WKC, and it always has been. Making it to the Finals and placing or winning is a significant accomplishment. Still, it’s important to remember that just qualifying for Westminster is a feat to be proud of, and the experience of competing with your dog is the real win.
What can the average exhibitor do to promote the sport and increase awareness of our community?
Gail Miller Bisher: I think two actions are “low-hanging fruit” when promoting the sport. First, join a local dog club and work for them. Everyone can contribute something, even if you work remotely on the website, local PR or archives, etc. Local clubs’ events are critical to public education. Second, be positive when speaking with new people exhibiting, strangers asking about your dog, and potential puppy buyers calling. We have all heard the accounts of breeders being unresponsive or unkind to people wanting to learn. In my mind, as a participant in the sport, you are a steward of the sport. It’s easy to help those interested in learning more about our dogs and competitions. Be kind and send them to AKC.org, where they can learn how to get started in a sport, find a breeder, etc.