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A canine connection

Donna Chicone and her Portuguese water dog, Jazz (right) are becoming familiar faces in town via their community television program. Also shown is Chicone's other dog "Jive." (Bulletin photo by Hank Long.)

Some television duos fight for the attention of the camera.

But Donna Chicone knows better than to call herself the star of the program she created and produces that airs on several east metro community television networks (including Channel 18 in Cottage Grove). She gives credit for the recent successes of "The Dog Show with Jazz" to her co-host, a four-legged, docile fellow for whom the Emmy-nominated program is named.

"He upstages me constantly," said Chicone, a Woodbury resident, who began her adventure in television with Jazz four years ago. "Whenever we're out on the trails in Woodbury and run into somebody it's always, 'Jazz! We watch you on TV!' It's fun to be able to connect with other dog owners on that level."

Chicone and Jazz have been increasingly familiar faces in the community since 2006 when the first-ever "The Dog Show with Jazz" episode aired. As Jazz is a certified therapy dog, the pair also make the rounds at area hospitals and assisted living facilities, where the curly-haired, charcoal-tinted Portuguese water dog cheers up those looking for a reason to smile.

Last week Chicone and Jazz emceed a local charity event put on by the Woodbury Guild of the Children's Hospital Association.

"Sometimes it may be just a few minutes, or mere seconds, but for that moment in time when Jazz enters the room, any pain (a hospital patient) is having is disregarded," Chicone explained, "and they just are in the moment interacting with him. It's pretty miraculous to witness that connection between dogs and people."

Improving upon that special connection with man's best friend is the heart of what "The Dog Show with Jazz" is all about, said Chicone, who found her way into television production through the corporate world.

For 23 years at 3M headquarters in Maplewood the Woodbury resident worked with intra-company communications and employee training. Chicone conducted training sessions with 3M employees around the world via television and also produced intra-company programs where she interviewed top executives.

"It was really fun learning the ropes of television producing, and I just got addicted to the adrenaline of taping shows," Chicone said.

Not long after her retirement from 3M Chicone and her husband James bought a new puppy. Several months of diligently training the new addition led her to discover the tremendous resources available to dog owners. She made the decision to bring those resources to one place, via community television.

"The Dog Show with Jazz" was born.

"I remember our first few episodes, we started out with a cement block wall for a set and it was tough to keep Jazz still even through the opening take," Chicone recalled. "Now we've got a great set, great guests, and he is just my little 'Zen boy' on camera. He's very laid back."

Chicone brings on an average of five guests per episode. Some of her staple participants are adoption specialists at the Minnesota Valley Humane Society, who often bring a canine friend to share with the television audience.

One of the more popular spots on the program "Our World of Dogs" features an interview with area breeders. Each month a new breed of dog is introduced to viewers.

"Our (production) crew just loves when we bring a new breed to the set," Chicone said. "It's one of the perks, I guess."

Now more than four years into development of the show, Chicone said she believes she's found the winning formula that can earn the program a sponsor for syndication. A recent Twin Cities Emmy nomination in the community television category is proof of that quality, she said. Especially considering her production crew is an all-volunteer effort.

"We've made so many strides," she said. "We really believe in this program."