Aside from the raised eyebrows inferring ‘you went to New York for a dog show?,’ the first response one typically gets from telling people that you went to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is, “Cool. We watch that on TV every year.”
And so it was after several years of watching the Westminster Dog Show on television that my wife, Kathryn, and I decided to pack up our two children, Charlotte and Robert, and fly up to New York City in the middle of winter to watch a dog show. We both come from dog-crazy families and have owned two – an Australian Shepherd and now a Portuguese Water Dog – in our life together so such a trip came as no surprise to our close friends and family.
There is a reason that New Yorkers spend their winter vacations in Florida, but still the excitement of The City cannot be missed, and we all enjoyed an insanely cold evening walking and sometimes slipping and sliding about Times Square and Central Park.
2012 will mark the 136th year of the WKS’s Annual All Breed Show; the second longest continuous running sporting event in America outside of the Kentucky Derby. While the dog show in itself is amazing, it is the venue that throws it over the top. Madison Square Garden is just as its moniker attests, “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” Sporting events and concerts come and go from The Garden, but the one steady since 1926 has been the Westminster Dog Show.
Westminster is actually held over a two-day period with the initial and largely final screening of most of the 2,000 – yes, 2,000 — dogs occurring on Monday and the paring down to a group of seven types and the ultimate Best of Show going down on Tuesday.
An almost electric atmosphere exudes from The Garden on Mondays as dogs and their handlers prance about the familiar green carpeting while spectators crowd in four or five deep around the half dozen show rings. This may be the Academy Awards of dogs, but it is far more intimate and accessible than the human version.
In fact, the most surprising part of the show is the accessibility to the dogs and their handlers. On television, Westminster comes across as a very proper and almost stodgy event. Not to say some of that doesn’t exist as it certainly does on Tuesdays leading up to the evening’s Best of Show, but this is a convention of dog lovers and breeders.
we ventured to the floor and backstage where hundreds of dogs were being blown, combed, coiffed and primped. Eccentric handlers, vain and obsessive owners and canine fanatics, the grooming pits are a scene straight from the 2000 spoof film, “Best in Show,” where what and who you see truly mimics the movie.
“Want to pet her?” one of the groomers asked Robert. Ducking under the rope and to the grooming table, our son pets the little Portuguese Water Dog and is greeted with a lick on the cheek. It is the start of a pit tour that has the kids petting and cuddling up to dozens of dogs, including a couple that actually go onto the Big Show on Tuesday night.
As millions of people watch from home, a captivated and sold out Madison Square Garden audience buzzes with all the drama of an NBA playoff game. Fortunes are made at Westminster where owning a best in breed, group or, most specifically, Best in Show dog brings large breeding fees back to the owners and prestige to the handlers and groomers. It is an environment very similar to that of big time horse racing.
At the end of our second day and first time at Westchester, it was a Scottish Terrier named Sadie who stole the hearts of the judges and went onto be the event’s big winner. The next morning she was on the Today Show and on the front page of the NY Times and USA Today.
For dog lovers and fans, there is nothing like Westminster and New York in the dead of winter. My wife and I have become what we laughed at in “Best of Show.” We went back again last year and have already bought our tickets for 2012.
For more information on tickets and the show visit westminsterkennelclub.org