Gone to the dogs
Fans look forward to sights, barks of Westminster Dog Show
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is so important to the members of the Grand Valley Kennel Club that they cancel their February meeting to view it.
“All of us dog people in the valley get together and do a big potluck and talk dogs,” said club member Noelle Blair, who owns five Pembroke Welsh corgis. “It is just a really good time. We all have our favorites we root for.”
The 137th annual Westminster Dog Show can be viewed the evenings of Monday, Feb. 11, on CNBC and Tuesday, Feb. 12, on USA Network.
One of the reasons Blair is passionate about Westminster is she enjoys seeing people she knows on TV. She can’t even count how many dog shows she’s attended over the years. She’s been showing dogs for more than two decades.
“You are standing next to each other in rings,” Blair said. “You don’t necessarily become fast friends, but you know each other, and you talk about family and dogs.”
For fellow kennel club member Kim Giannone, Madison Square Garden’s emerald green carpet and the ornate purple and gold rosettes the winners receive are vivid details that make Westminster something special.
“The show has such a historical reputation and it’s so fancy,” said Giannone, who watches Westminster every year and owns three Bernese mountain dogs. “Most of our dog shows, like our local dog shows done at the fairgrounds, are in the dirt, so it doesn’t have quite the same class. Plus, Westminster is an opportunity to see rare breeds that we might not get to see in Colorado.”
Different breeds have different standards at Westminster. Dogs are judged based on what they were originally bred to do as well as other characteristics.
“You can’t judge an Akita against a Rottweiler because they are completely different breeds.” Blair said.
Blair watches for dogs that move gracefully because movement shows how well the dog is built.
“You can train them to do some things, but a dog that isn’t built correctly can only do so much with their movement,” she said.
“To the novice who is watching television, it just looks like the dogs are running in a circle and there is not a lot of rhyme or reason to it,” Blair said. “But when the judge is watching a dog run around, they are looking to see is the head above the topline? Does the topline stay level? What does the topline do for that specific breed? They are really watching it to see how straight they move.”
“Topline” refers to the curvature of a dog’s back.
Blair was displeased with the 2012 best in show winner, Malachy, a 4-year-old, 11-pound Pekinese with small legs and lots of fur.
“There was a Dalmatian (in the final lineup) that I just thought was absolutely stunning,” Blair said, sighing. “A Pekinese would be hard to judge just watching them because you can’t really see what is going on. There’s so much hair. We tease a lot about the Pekinese. We say that the handlers have to check what end to put the leash on.”
Blair and Giannone know firsthand how challenging it is to be successful at showing dogs.
In 2008, Giannone’s Narsil, a Bernese mountain dog, was invited to Westminster. Blair’s Pembroke Welsh corgi, Gabe, received an invitation a year later.
Both declined the invitations, in part because of travel costs.
“New York loves dogs, especially during this time of year, but it’s all pavement,” Blair said. “Even though they love dogs, it’s not dog friendly.”
Dogs that place in the top five in the country in their breed category are guaranteed an invitation to Westminster. Points are accumulated from wins in dog shows across the nation. The canine with the most points during the previous year is the top dog in the United States.
Other dogs may attend Westminster, but spots are limited. Those entries usually fill just minutes after the show opens, Noelle said.
It costs quite a bit to prepare dogs for shows, much less for Westminster. There are the entry fees, obedience classes and bathing products among other expenses.
“There’s definitely a lot more financial outlay than financial rewards,” Giannone said. “Our ribbons aren’t worth a whole lot, but we cherish every one of them and the money that went behind getting them.”
However, in the dog show business, time is as important as money.
“There is a lot of preparation that goes into the dogs you will see at Westminster.” Blair said, “For the five minutes you are in the ring, there are thousands of hours that go into that. Every week the dogs are bathed and brushed and shampooed. I’ve been out in the subzero weather conditioning my dogs, walking two miles. Working on toenails and teeth.”