Six New Breeds Will Join Show at Westminster

Xoloitzcuintli, national dog of Mexico, among 185 breeds competing

 

BY SANDY ROBINS

MSNBCSports.com contributor

updated 6:44 p.m. ET Feb. 10, 2012

New York City is once again getting dressed in purple and gold, the official colors of the Westminster Kennel Club, as dogs from around the world converge on Madison Square Garden to strut their stuff on the famous green carpet in an attempt to win the most coveted Best in Show title in dogdom.

The show, celebrating its 136th consecutive year and running Monday and Tuesday, draws dogs from around the world. This year, a total of 2,077 dogs representing 185 breeds and varieties will compete.

For the second consecutive year, Rhodesian Ridgebacks provided the highest breed entry number with 40 entries, followed by 39 French Bulldogs, 38 Labrador Retrievers, 32 Golden Retrievers and 29 Vizslas.

“I think Rhodesian Ridgeback owners and handlers work really hard to get a big entry at Westminster as a way of turning it into an annual gathering for fanciers of this breed,” said David Frei communications director of the Westminster Kennel Club. “On the other end of the scale, the smallest entry in a breed group is two and applies to American Water Spaniels, Harriers, Kuvaszoks, Sealyham Terriers and Canaan Dogs.”

For more than two decades, Frei has also been the “voice of Westminster” commentating the show for its live TV broadcast. He  will be hosting again this year.

“I believe part of the show’s appeal is what I call the ‘alma mater effect,’ ” Frei said.

“We have such a spiritual and emotional connection with our dogs. And if you own a particular breed, you automatically have a vested interest in those dogs, both inside and outside the ring. This is a sport where professionals and amateurs can work along side one another in the show ring.”

This year, six new breeds will be making their debut on the green carpet. They are:

The American English Coonhound in the hound group; the breed is known to be alert, confident and sociable with both humans and dogs.

The Cesky Terrier in the terrier group; they are known to be reserved towards strangers, loyal to their owners, but ever keen and alert during the hunt.

The Entlebucher Mountain Dog in the herding group; they are native of Switzerland and the smallest of the four Swiss breeds.

The Finnish Lapphund in the herding group; they are reindeer-herding dogs from the northern parts of Scandinavia.

The Norwegian Lundehund in the non-sporting group; they are also known as the Puffin Dogs as they have a history of hunting and retrieving puffin birds, which used to be an important meat and feather crop for local farmers in Norway. Today puffin birds are protected and the puffin dog has taken up its new role as an alert, cheerful and somewhat mischievous companion.

The Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced “show-low”) is also in the non-sporting group; this is the national dog of Mexico. It was previously known as the Mexican Hairless. It comes in three sizes, as well as a coated version. These dogs are descendants of hairless dogs once prized by the Aztecs and revered as guardians of the dead. Over 400 years later, they still roam the Mexican jungles.

Judging Best in Show this year will be dog show veteran Cindy Vogels of Greenwood Village, Colo. This is her fifth Westminster assignment and she last judged the Terrier group in 2005.

Once again, more than half of the canine contestants will be staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street from Madison Square Garden, which has the sobriquet of the most “pup-ular” hotel in the city.

Doggie concierge Jerry Grymek will be on duty to attend to all doggie demands and whining whims and the hotel will convert its lower ballroom into a doggie green room for contestants to relax and be pampered before they take part in the show.

“If the Best in Show winner happens to be a guest at the hotel, their accommodation will be complimentary,” said Grymek who is permanently armed with a lint roller in order to remain fur-free while on duty.

So once again the hottest topic around water coolers everywhere is who will take the most famous crown in dog show competition and follow such wonder dogs as Stump the Sussex spaniel, who, at the age of 10 years, was the oldest dog ever to win in 2009, or last year’s winner, Hickory, the graceful Scottish Deerhound.

Dog show pundits may have their favorites but ultimately it all comes down to a dog’s performance on the day.