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February 25, 2020

To the Rescue

“Perfectly imperfect” shelter dogs get their due in Hallmark event.

Dinah Eng
  • Well-dressed corgis await direction.

    Kim Nunnely/Alexx Henry Studios, LLC

At the Hallmark Channel, Presidents' Weekend is one for the dogs — specifically, the American Rescue Dog Show.

The program follows a format similar to that of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but rather than showcasing purebreds, it features dogs that have been rescued nationwide. The two-night event, seen February 16–17 on the cable network, is available for viewing on TV Everywhere and streaming service Hallmark Movies Now (it will also re-air on the Hallmark Drama channel).

"The format resonates with viewers," executive producer and cocreator Michael Levitt says of the show, which celebrates "the perfectly imperfect" in categories such as Best in Snoring, Best in Wiggle Butt, Best in Belly Rubs and Best in Special Needs Dog.

"Seeing rescued dogs in a fancy arena with judges in fancy clothes is a juxtaposition that creates awareness in an entertaining way. We show that these dogs, with great personalities, are every bit as good as a dog bought from a breeder."

The winning dog in each of 10 semifinal categories wins a $5,000 grant for the rescue organization that saved him or her, courtesy of the Pedigree Foundation. The dog crowned "Best in Rescue" gets an additional $25,000 for his or her former shelter.

Levitt, who produces live-event entertainment specials and reality shows, rescued a dog named Trooper in 2012, when his sister was dying of cancer. "Trooper opened my eyes to how many incredible dogs need a home," he says.

After his sister died, Levitt took a year off to rescue dogs, then decided to use his skills as a producer to help tackle the problem of homeless animals.

After he produced The All-Star Dog Rescue Celebration, a celebrity-studded dog-adoption marathon for Fox in 2014 and 2015, Levitt came to the attention of Bill Abbott, then president of Crown Media Networks, parent company of the the Hallmark Channel.

An animal lover who has taken in three dogs and nine cats, Abbott had initially pursued the rights for the Westminster show for Hallmark, but ultimately decided that "shelter pets deserved their own show."

Abbott charged Levitt and Jennifer Schulz, a communications professional for pet brands and organizations, with developing the American Rescue Dog Show, now in its third year. Schulz, who is also an executive producer on the show, arranged a partnership last year with Adopt-a-Pet. com, a search engine for people seeking shelter pets. The organization, like the show, encourages viewers to adopt, not buy, pets.

She notes that the American Rescue Dog Show has won the Genesis Award of the Humane Society of the United States for its animal protection theme; it also participates in Hallmark's Adoption Ever After initiative, which is working to empty the nation's pet shelters. "We're not only producing entertainment," Schulz says. "We're doing good."


For information about breed rescues featured in American Rescue Dog Show, click here.


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2020

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