The annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the largest, oldest, and most prestigious in North America, has been delighting dog fanciers since its inception in 1877. For participants—the owners, handlers, groomer and the dogs themselves—it is the culmination of a year of hard campaigning. As in politics, there are the rounds to be made—in this case, the qualifying shows, which require far flung travel and a deep wallet— as well as key people to influence. Owners even place ads for their dog in a variety of show books in hopes of influencing the judges by familiarizing them with their dog and thus upping their odds of taking home an award. For those with their eyes on the prize, the ultimate commendation, the most coveted award in the dog show world, is Best in Show and whatever may give a leg up in the ring—from advertising to the hiring of professional handlers—is often done.
Held in Madison Square Garden in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the stadium is abuzz with fanciers, owners, and journalists. Bold-name attendees such as Martha Stewart, who comes to watch the French Bulldogs, lend an extra frisson of excitement to the proceedings. The air backstage in the benching area where the dogs are groomed and where they rest awaiting their turn in the ring is pregnant with hopes and expectations, as well as hairspray, urine, damp sawdust, popcorn, dog hair, sweat, perfume. The handlers are dressed for the event in suit and tie or skirt, pumps, and stockings, and are busy ushering their charges to the floor, while groomers perform the dogs’ elaborate toilette, readying them for the judges’ scrutiny. Blow-dryers and hairspray are wielded liberally. Rather remarkably, general attendees are allowed into this benching area, allowing them a fascinating, up close look at the canine contenders, the grooming process, and the general crowded craziness of the backstage scene.
Despite the attractions of the benching area, the real action takes place in the ring. Millions of people tune in from the comfort of their living rooms to see over 185 breeds and varieties compete while announcers explain in voiceover what the judges are looking for, from stance, size, and colouring to specifics like almond-shaped eyes and a high stepping gate, perhaps, or a low-slung walk, commentary most welcome from dog lovers not familiar with the breed standards the dogs are judged by. To the lay person, they are all lovely examples of their breed, but for that the proceedings are no less captivating. The combination of a diverse array of beautiful dogs, from the teased Toy Poodle to the rare Lowchen, plus the show’s venerable history and competitive stakes is magical.
FROM TOP: A Whippetand ribbon; a Junior Handler and a Poodle at the grooming station backstage.
Meet the Breeds
Having just been recognized by the American Kennel Club, these six breeds are now eligible for competition in conformation shows and will be competing at the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Click here to view the breeds