Elvis and David Best in action on The Greatest American Dog.
Photo courtesy CBS.com
August 14, 2008
People used to say “It’s a dog’s life” like that was a bad thing. They should only meet Elvis.
The two-year-old Parson Russell Terrier (picture a somewhat elongated Jack Russell) was the guest of honor at a $10,000 “bark mitzva” thrown by his owner, Dr. David Best of New York City. More than 100 guests were on hand at Sammy’s Romanian Restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, including Best’s buds from the medical profession as well as his Hebrew school years in his native Camden.
“Some would say it was nuts; others would say it’s irreverent. It was simply a chance to have a party,” he told NJ Jewish News in a telephone interview.
Videos of the November 2007 affair (Best calculated when Elvis would be 13 in dog years) were posted to TheDoctorsChannel.com, the Web site Best created as a sort of YouTube for medical practitioners. The clips caught the attention of the producers for The Greatest American Dog, a reality TV series on CBS that features canines and their owners living together under one luxurious roof and competing for a grand prize of $250,000. Dogs are judged by their obedience, agility, and performance of tasks.
Elvis was no stranger to competition. Last fall, he participated in a “Best in Shul” event hosted by a White Plains synagogue; the pooch attended in a custom-made tallit and kipa.
Best and Elvis flew to California for a six-day Greatest American Dog audition in March. Given the requirements for spontaneity on such programs, they and the other 11 contestants were not allowed to fraternize during the procedings. “When you first meet them in the house, they want it to be fresh,” Best said.
Shortly after their return to the East Coast, Best got the call. Congratulations. Come on back. Taping GAD lasted from mid-April through the end of June.
If the animal misbehaves, they and their owner are both banished to — you guessed it — the dog house, a small, bare-bones structure, to serve their penance. Best and Elvis were subjected to such punishment after Elvis bit a bulldog during a playful romp. Of the two, Elvis had a better time adapting. “I’m a Jewish boy; what do I know from the outdoors and camping?” Best asked.
In a move that shocked their growing legion of fans, they were voted off in the third episode after the judges (and can someone tell me why every show like this has a Brit on the panel?) ruled Best had endangered Elvis during one of the agility events.
Best earned his medical degree from Temple University before attending Baruch College in New York, where he earned an MBA. Using his passion for creative writing, he developed The Doctor’s Channel.
“Physicians have the attention span of a hummingbird,” he said. “Doctors are inundated with materials — journal articles, CD-ROMs, textbooks. Doctors don’t have time to read. If they are reading, they’re reading abstracts.” The Doctors Channel offers information in short educational streaming videos.
Since meeting Elvis, Best has learned the ancillary benefits of companion animals. “I always say shame on me — being a physician — to not understand the therapeutic value that a pet brings. Studies have shown they lower blood pressure; for Alzheimer’s patients there’s less outburst, less depression.” His own mother took comfort from Elvis when Best brought him to visit her in a geriatric home in south Jersey.
“What’s the first thing we do when a patient complains about allergies? We say, ‘Get rid of the pet.’” Best called pet therapy a “major, major part” of the healing arts and said it should be a mandatory component in a doctor’s training.
Early on in GAD, one of his competitors told him he would not be eliminated because, as a Jew, he was a minority. He told her, “I’m a white male first. I don’t think they consider us Jews a minority when you’re walking around as a white male. Plus I’m a doctor. Do you think they’re going to give a quarter of a million dollars to a doctor from New York City?”
Overall, however, Best — whose bar mitzva parsha was, aptly, Noah — was “thrilled” with the experience. After all, how many times do you get the opportunity to say with certainty, “Elvis has left the building”?