Kathy Carson leads a pretty amazing life. Ask anyone who knows her. She lives in beautiful Ketchum, Idaho, with her husband, Paul, and has for decades. Her son, Cassidy, just started college in Utah. She has a beautiful young, red merle Australian Shepherd, Navrock Coup de Foudre, who has tons of conformation and agility potential. And, a big part of her work is traveling to dog events around the country.

Not bad, right?

Her company, Carson International, got its start the same way all great businesses do. You take something you know a lot about and have a passion for, and you find a way to turn it into something that produces income. When you put together a former professional tennis player – Kathy – and a former pro skier – Paul – they’re going to create a business that’s part of the sporting world, but that no longer requires its principals to compete with the best on the court or on the slopes.

Australian Shepherd Johnnie Thunder introduced Kathy Carson to a whole new world after her life with Labrador Retrievers. Photographs courtesy of Kathy Carson.

Sporting Events for the Two-Legged

Together, they managed skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, volleyball and other sporting events. The couple handled downhill skiing’s pro racing tour at one time, and for 10 years, the Jose Cuervo Gold Crown beach volleyball series.

For those of us who simply attend events, rather than manage them, the most difficult part of that combination might appear to be the disparate wardrobe required, what with one calling for snow boots and down jackets, and the other, trunks and bikinis. But that’s not the tough part at all. The challenge is in the details, Kathy Carson says.

“It’s a lot of detail work,” she says, to make event broadcasts look the way they do on TV, as opposed to how they would look in real life if no big cameras were trained on the action.

That’s particularly true for The National Dog Show Presented by Purina, one of Carson’s biggest projects. Her company was already managing the filming of the Philadelphia Kennel Club’s two annual dog shows for airing on cable when NBC expressed interest in broadcasting one of them as The National Dog Show.

“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff,” Kathy says, explaining her company’s role for the past 12 years. “We work with NBC on site to produce the show. We make the hall look like it looks on TV – the carpet, flowers, bleachers. We work with the kennel club, provide the medals. We work on the [National Dog Show] website with NBC. We do the official program, all the graphics, all the VIP bags, dinners, lunches. We work with Purina to make sure they’re getting what they need at the show.”

Kathy and Paul Carson own the company that does on-site management for NBC of the National Dog Show Presented by Purina.

Kathy loves being involved with the show whose ratings, she says, “were off the chart” in 2012. “It’s looking to be one of NBC’s best projects,” she adds. It makes her happy to know that people who watch the show are learning about the different dog breeds and finding out that there’s more to picking a dog than its appearance, size and popularity.

One day she was walking on a trail near her home and met a man with a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. The man struck up a conversation, telling her that his family had lost their dog not long before the show one year. “I was watching the dog show on Thanksgiving,” he told Kathy. “We decided that this breed, because of that show, would be the perfect breed for us.”

Kathy says, “That made me so happy. His family is so happy.

She ascribes the broadcast’s success to several factors, including the time of day it airs and the fact that it’s on Thanksgiving Day. “I think it’s become something that families sit around and watch while they’re cooking. You can look at your favorite breed and all these beautiful dogs.” The narration by David Frei, communications director for the Westminster Kennel Club, and actor John O’Hurley add a lot too, she says. “They are humorous, and they do know what they’re talking about.” It’s also due to “the way NBC films it.” Jeff Simon, who also produces NHL Hockey and the Olympics for NBC, is in charge of the show. “Some of the shots he gets – the beautiful eyes, teeth, fur.” Everyone on the project works hard to promote it and keep it fresh, she says. In addition, “I think people want to hear some good news, and it’s positive.”

Blaze is helping fill the empty nest created when Cassidy Carson went off to college in Utah last fall.

The Dog Transition

The National Dog Show wasn’t Carson’s first project with Nestlé Purina PetCare, nor was the company’s work with the dog food manufacturer Kathy’s introduction to life with dogs.

“I’ve had dogs all my life,” she says, and remembers growing up in Miami with Susie, a Golden Retriever. “My dad was so attached to her that, when we had to put her to sleep, I had to go with my mother. Early on, my parents gave me that joy of loving animals and learning how to take care of them.” And, coincidentally, Kathy recalls those big green bags of dog food – Purina Dog Chow.

The first dog event Carson International did came about from its work on pre-event promotions for the Super Bowl. Kathy and Paul managed the event in which former Super Bowl players met up for a game before the “big game.” Jose Cuervo hosted dogs demonstrating disc-catching during halftime, she says. “This is really cool,” she and her husband said to each other. “That sort of gave us the impetus” to develop some sort of X Games- type event for dogs, she says. Purina was just changing its logo to “Incredible Dogs. Incredible Dog Food.” The Carsons and Purina worked together to develop what’s known today as the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge.

Also coincidentally – honest – one of the program’s regional events is coming up on March 1 and 2 in Las Vegas at the Rio All-Suites Hotel. Saturday’s event will stream online live, starting at 9:30 a.m. (PST).

Kathy gives Blaze some love when he was still a puppy.

About 15 years ago, the first challenge away from the Purina Farms site in Gray Summit, Mo., coincided with the International Kennel Club of Chicago dog shows. It mainly consisted of “dogs running off a stage into a pool,” in the early days of what is now known as dock diving, Kathy says. “In the next year, we did six events. People had never seen it before, and we filmed it for TV.” You may remember seeing footage on cable TV. Soon enough, flying disc, large and small agility, Jack Russell Terrier hurdle racing, something called “60 Weaves” and flyball were the core events for the challenge.

“The beauty of the Incredible Dog Challenge is you can see every sport on one field. It’s a stadium event. That’s sort of what’s different about it,” she says.

Now almost a year old, Blaze may head to the show circuit in the future.

Year After Year

It’s the Carsons’ love of dogs that fuels their work with Purina, Kathy says. “You can’t do a program this long and keep coming up with ideas that are beneficial, if you don’t love dogs. If you don’t live it and love them, you just can’t feel it.”

And feel it she does, when she starts talking about her first Aussie, Johnnie Thunder. All of her adult life, she’d had Labrador Retrievers, she says. After getting involved with the Incredible Dog Challenge, she was enticed by her then 9-year-old son to get a breed that would be a bit more competitive at performance events such as agility and flyball. “Johnnie showed me a different breed that I was more connected to because of agility. What an amazing breed.” In 2011 when she returned home from The National Dog Show, she thought Johnnie looked tired. He was only 8, but it turned out he had a mediated blood disorder involving his platelets. “He died within three weeks,” she says.

In July 2012, the Carsons took home Blaze, Navrock Coup de Foudre. “He is incredible. You look at him, and you melt. I’m sure he’s going to be a great dog. He’s just getting started.” Two of his littermates are being shown right now and are “doing very well,” she says. The breeder wants Blaze to earn his championship, but Kathy says she’s not quite ready to let him go to a handler. The Carsons’ son left for his first year of college in August, just after Blaze joined the family. So, Blaze is busy filling their “empty nest” at the moment.

Kathy knows how fortunate she is to do something she loves from a place she loves.

“It’s really cool to be able to do this from where we are and to bring this to the country because people love dogs.

“It’s almost like the events have helped people’s lifestyles. It’s something for people to do with their dogs. And that’s fantastic. I love it.

“I’m going to keep trying to find new things and come up with fun things for people to do with dogs.”