With the NBA All-Star break and the game itself Fox Sports broadcaster and spokesperson for Thibodaux Regional Hospital Jen Hale took a little time away from the basketball hardwood to cover the Westminster Dog Agility Championships in New York City. I got a chance to catch up with Jen Hale in her second stint covering the championships for Fox Sports 1.
Jen, It's your second year covering the Westminster Agility Championships. First of all, you have told me you grew up around animals and dogs and so how impressed are you with the attitudes and discipline of the animals that participate in these events?
"Mike, I was born in New Orleans, but I grew up on a small farm outside of Mobile, Alabama. We raised cows, chickens and pigs, and of course had cats and dogs and raccoons and rabbits as pets. These dogs and this event take me back to my childhood - that's why I love doing it so much.
The bond between owner and canine athlete is so strong and so apparent. You can't help but smile and enjoy watching the two work together as a team. Both dog and owner cherish the chance to compete and spend quality time together. The love and connection between the two is palpable."
The coverage of these events have certainly grown throughout the years, but in the late 1950's and early 1960's these championships for the Westminster Dog Show were cover stories for Sport Magazine and also Sports Illustrated. Tell us a little about the coverage not only in the states, but worldwide for these championships?
"Right now, the Westminster Agility Trials are being held at Pier 94 in New York. I envision them moving soon into Madison Square Garden along with the Best in Show event because of growing interest and demand. I also was on the Fox Sports 1 announcing team for last year's event and this participation exploded by 40% this year. The show had to turn away hopefuls who wanted to compete in the preliminary rounds because Pier 94 didn't have enough space to accommodate everyone who wanted to compete."
Jen, you had an opportunity to speak to the trainers of the dogs involved and so give the readers a little insight in the training and hours involved with getting these dogs ready for competition?
"These truly are canine athletes, and so handler and dog treat the sport that way. You must be very dedicated to succeed at this competition at a high level. It's only through time invested that you get the type of communication and familiarity one needs to be a hopeful champion. That being said, agility is also a fantastic sport to just invest in time together with your dog if you don't want to take it to the top levels of competition. That's why its appeal is so large - one can do it at so many levels and enjoy such a rewarding experience."
The special diets and care given to these special dogs are so regimented. Touch upon what you have seen and how this is handled by the owners and trainers of the dogs involved?
"They truly are canine athletes: they are stretched, exercised, hydrated, fed on a very strict regiment come competition day. The preliminary rounds start early in the morning, then the championship that night. Needless to say, it's a very long day. The handlers treat their canine athletes the same way a coach would treat human athletes on the day of a double header."
Jen, give us your most interesting storyline this year.
"The All-American dogs have been a tremendous story to follow. In essence, they are the “mutts” or the non-pure bred competitors. Westminster started allowing them to compete last year. I treasure the fact that there are so many rescue dogs, competing and excelling in the Agility Championship. It’s a life lesson about how everyone has value. Some of these dogs were days away from leaving this world. The energy, love and skill these dogs have is amazing to watch. The blood lines don't matter. It’s about heart. We can all learn from that and be inspired by that feature."
Tell us a little about the Canine Cancer Feature:
"Last year, the crew with Fox Sports 1 had the pleasure of working with former Olympian and current-day dog enthusiast Greg Louganis. This year, we had the honor of working with Terry Simons as our analyst. He has a foundation dedicated to curing canine cancer. It’s doing incredible work. That’s a cause near and dear to my heart: I lost my golden retriever Rhett to cancer - lymphoma. I encourage everyone to look Terry and his foundation up. It’s called CLEAR Canine Cancer: www.clearcaninecancer.com."
You are representing Fox Sports in their coverage, but also you are the women's spokesperson for Thibodaux Regional Hospital. There is such a connection between the sports world and the reality of people and animals that have suffered an injury or fighting a disease.
"Mike, I love the honor of being able to represent Thibodaux Regional Medical Center because this hospital is such an innovator in methods to help patients. TRMC is on the cutting edge, and it’s amazing to watch everything they’re doing and I have the pleasure of being a small part of it. In terms of animals, they’ve been a part of my family since my earliest memory. I believe they have an indescribable power to comfort, inspire, understand – in situations where humans can’t or don’t. We used a stat this year that I found just remarkable. A dog is the only mammal besides a human who seeks eye contact on a regular basis besides a human. From personal experience, I know this is true! My dogs and I always shared a bond that was unable to be quantified or qualified, they have a soul. They also have the capacity to love without any trace of judgment. Isn’t that an amazing gift that we could all use more of?"