Sure, there will be celebrities at the Beverly Hills Dog Show. I’m talking Mario Lopez, Shaun White, Bo Derek and Ashley Tisdale, to name a few. But the real stars of this particular red carpet are on four legs. For Maria Menounos, a staunch animal lover and advocate, working the carpet is a highlight of her year.
“The fact my job entails getting to play with dogs all day, I’m the happiest person on the planet,” she said. “It’s super-fun for me. The celebrity component separates this show from the others. Ashley Tisdale brought her dog Maui. Olympic gold medalist Shaun White was my favorite because he brought his little Yorkie [Leroy], and they had matching outfits with matching pink tinted glasses.
“It was jaw-dropping. Purina is so committed to showing the impact pets can have on people. We do a lot of events throughout the year where it’s bringing dogs into the classroom to help with socialization, Pets and Vets programs. Doing this big entertainment dog show, it’s part of the mission.”
This year’s third annual event, taped March 2 at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA, features 1,500 dogs representing 200 eligible breeds and varieties vying for Best in Show. In the end, each group winner moves on to the final judge to decide the top dog. John O’Hurley and David Frei return to host alongside colleague Mary Carillo bringing viewers closer to the action in the show ring.
Menounos can trace her love of dogs back to watching Lassie. She remembers begging neighbors to borrow their pets to walk them.
“I had rabbits growing up,” she said. “I remember being in the village in Greece and spending my days playing with the goats and the chickens. I just love animals and would always save animals that were injured and nurse them back to health. I’m still doing it. If you saw my Instagram stories about two weeks ago, I was trying to save a rat, and that was pretty intense. I just love animals and have a special connection with them.”
The Emmy-winning reporter, best-selling author, podcaster and producer knows the impact dogs can have on a life. Menounos and husband Keven Undergaro currently have two dogs named Winnie and Maximus, with another rescue Willie looking to be the third. She knows firsthand the impact they can have on someone’s life. In recent years, Menounos has endured some tough times, with her mom battling stage IV brain cancer and herself having a brain tumor removed.
“If I was ever sick, my dog Benjamin would always be by my side,” Menounos said. “My dog sat on my mom’s lap when she was recovering from brain surgery. When I was having brain surgery, Winnie was on my chest in the hospital. It makes such a massive difference. I know it helped me heal. It kept me calm.
"Dogs are just so therapeutic. They are just so loving and compassionate. That’s why I always say they are God’s greatest gifts to us.”
She finds proof of this often through friends like WWE Hall of Famer Sean Waltman, known to fans as X-Pac. He found an abused dog Lula running in the street one night and ended up being a forever home.
“He called Keven and brought her to the house and cleaned her up,” Menounos said. “I just looked at them, and at one point it looked like she was going to stay with us. I said, ‘No Keven, that’s Sean’s dog. Sean, that’s your baby.”
“The two of them have been inseparable. Talk about therapeutic. She has helped him so much, and she has helped him so much. It’s like such a two-way street. Our dogs make us better, and we make them better too in a different way.”
Pet lovers are invited to post a photo or video on social media using the hashtag #EveryDogIsAStar for a chance to be spotlighted during the Beverly Hills Dog Show or on the NBC Sports site.
2019 Beverly Hills Dog Show, 1/12c, Easter Sunday, April 21, NBC