Rita Rudner is Sunday's host for "Best in Show," the heartwarming, dog-saving fundraiser staged every year by the Animal Foundation.
The 50 dogs are from the shelter. By the end of the event, audience members adopt the dogs and give them forever homes.
Rudner is an inspired host -- a lifetime canine aficionado who not only tells dog jokes, but she once enlisted her own dog as a featured act in stand-up gigs across Las Vegas.
The dog star's name was Bonkers.
Bonkers was a high jumper in a dog act at the Excalibur until he was hit by a car, ending that career. Rudner and her husband, Martin Bergman, adopted Bonkers.
But they faced one problem. Rudner lived in her performance hotels, which wouldn't allow Bonkers to check in, and Rudner didn't want to put him in a kennel.
Rudner's husband came up with a solution.
"If you put the dog in the show, they'll have to allow the dog in the hotel," Bergman suggested to Rudner.
The comedian immediately enlisted Bonkers for performances.
"He'd run onstage, and whatever he was already doing, I would tell him to do," Rudner says. "He did lots of impressions with his tail. He did windshield wiper.
"And he hit my leg with his tail. I'd say, 'Hit my leg, hit my leg, hit my leg.'
"When he got really happy, he would do propeller tail."
That's how Bonkers, she says, "ended up performing in almost every hotel on the Strip."
Bonkers was a natural ham, accustomed to applause.
"The way I would get him into the room is I would clap, and he would run into my arms," she says.
He was trained to sing along to "Happy Birthday." That was a hit with kids.
"People still ask about him," Rudner says. "We had Bonkers for 13 years."
Bonkers died at 15, about three and a half years ago.
"Martin kept looking at me: 'Are you ever gonna stop crying?' I said, 'I'm trying!' " Rudner recalls.
"He was a good boy."
Rudner's current dog is Twinkle.
"Twinkle is a very good girl."
But Rudner isn't sure what breed Twinkle is.
"It's hard to tell. Right now, she's a very hairy dog with dirty feet," she says.
"Rumor has it she might be something called a Chinese crested powder puff. But when I look online, she doesn't look anything like that."
Twinkle was named by Rudner's daughter, Molly, which reminds us of a joke Rudner used to tell: "I didn't know whether to get a dog or have a child. I didn't know whether I wanted to ruin my carpets or ruin my life."
So now, she has both daughter and pup, and each enriches her life immensely. The family also has a hamster, a frog, a fish and a snail.
"I said no to the alpaca. I drew the line."
Molly is quite fond of her hamster, named Tiny, who recently escaped her cage and caused havoc.
"We searched and searched and searched," Rudner says, "and finally we followed the poo and we found the hamster. She's back safely in her cage on her wheel."
Rudner does a check of all the heartbeats in her home.
"Everybody is in their place. The frog and the fish and the snail are in the water. The hamster is in the cage. The dog is over here, asleep. Everybody's good."
Molly is going to "Best in Show" to help her mom, whose goal is that "lovely people adopt the doggies."
"I know there are a lot of doggies around, especially with this recession," she says. "Hopefully, somebody will help."
Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at delfman@ reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.