City embraces Westminster Dog Show as true institution
By Sandy Robins
updated 6:28 p.m. PT, Thurs., March. 2, 2006
Once again New York City is getting dressed up in purple and gold, the official colors of the Westminster Kennel Club to salute the 130th anniversary of the Westminster Dog Show that takes place at Madison Square Garden on Monday and Tuesday.
For the third consecutive year, the Empire State Building will adorn its tower with purple and gold lights, and many stores and pet boutiques will deck out their windows with dog-related displays to endorse the occasion, which been billed as one of the top 10 events on the city’s annual calendar.
“Everybody’s got a gimmick when Westminster comes to town,” said David Frei, Director of Communications for the Westminster Kennel Club in New York. “There are signs everywhere welcoming visitors. Restauranteurs go all out with special menus especially for doggy guests.”
Frei points out that the dog show, along with the circus and the national horse show, are the only events to have been staged in all four arenas that have been known as Madison Square Garden.
“We are ingrained in the New York fabric,” he said. “Also its the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the country after the Kentucky Derby.”
Last year, the show was a sellout as 18,000 people packed the arena on both nights to cheer their canine favorites, and organizers are hoping for a repeat performance.
Back in 1876, Thomas Edison hadn’t even invented the light bulb when a group of sports fans began meeting regularly at the bar of the Westminster Hotel in Manhattan to trade stories about their shooting accomplishments and the talents of their dogs. It was here that they decided to form a dog club and stage a show, naming both after their favorite hotel.
Initially the entry fee was $2. 130 years later, it’s $60, which is still relatively inexpensive. For contestants, their main expenses are transport, high-priced dog-friendly hotel rooms and the exorbitant cost of a good cappuccino.
During Westminster, yappy hour in various hotels across town extends into a weeklong blitz of dog-related activities that include individual dog club meetings, art auctions, awards banquets, cocktail parties and canine couture fashion shows, which all help to boost the city’s coffers.
The highlight of the two-day event is undoubtedly the presentation of the Best In Show Award that takes place Tuesday night, crowning the winner America’s top dog.
This award was introduced in 1907, and the title went to a smooth fox terrier bitch named Champion Warren Remedy, who won the title the next two years, making her the only dog to be crowned with this triple achievement.
Since then, 98 Best In Show awards have been handed out, and terriers have won 43 times.
“I think it’s inherent in the terriers’ personality to be showy, happy dogs in the ring,” Frei said.
“Also they were bred to always be on the lookout for trouble. So they are very aware of their surroundings. They think the world is theirs and people just happen to live in it. Other breeds are more in tune with their owners than their surroundings.”
As contestants chomp on liver and smoked turkey treats, the judges will be treated to handfuls of purple and gold M&Ms. When the show begins, for those in the ring both human and canine, the focus is on having fun.
“But the pressure is definitely on beforehand to ensure last year’s tuxedo still fits,” said Frei, who will be celebrating his 17th year as a TV presenter for the show.
In the next couple of days, the reigning top dog, a German shorthaired pointer named Carlee, will hand over the title. Previous winners include a Newfoundland (2004), a Kerry blue terrier, (2003) a miniature poodle (2002) a bichon frise (2001) and an English springer spaniel (2000).
“Our event is more like Miss America than a sporting event because you can’t really handicap it in terms of past successes,” Frei said. “And we’re not on the betting books in Las Vegas. The winner is not judged on the basis of a dog’s reputation or past wins. It all depends on performance on the day.”
To date, 286,402 contestants have taken part in previous shows, and dog lovers can look forward to another 2,500 dogs representing 165 breeds and varieties strutting their stuff on the famed green carpet.
Each one is a champion in its own right so the field is wide open.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning freelancer writer based in Irvine, Calif. Her work has appeared in numerous publications in the United States and internationally.
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