Welcome to the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at none other than the splashiest venue, Madison Square Garden. What an amazing night of shiny pups, showy handlers, and some stellar announcing. I should state upfront that my only knowledge of dog shows comes from Best In Show, the Christopher Guest mock-umentary that now seems like much less of a mocku and more of a docu.
For some background, America’s Dog Show extended its standing as the second-longest continuously held sporting event in this country, a streak that began in 1877. This year’s event drew an entry of 2,845 dogs. We experienced a real national treasure here.
Let’s meet our cast of characters. First and foremost, we have the illustrious Michael LaFave acting as the announcer, a position that he has held since 2001. It is Mike MyFave’s seasoned talent that makes this show especially enjoyable. He’s dressed in black tie just like the judges, as is befitting for America’s Dog Show. The two commentators are NBC correspondent Erica Hill and David Frei, the communications director of the Westminster Kennel Club.
After a vigorous performance from the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem, we jump right into the competition. This was the closing night of the dog show, so there are only 90 dogs and three categories left to judge: sporting, working and terrier breeds. The other four categories (hound, toy, non-sporting, herding) competed Monday night and their winners have already been chosen. By the end of the evening an overall winner will walk home with the title of “Best In Show.” Dun, dun, dun.
The judges did a lot of manhandling of the pups. They really gripped the dogs’ jaws, like your mom when she’s trying to tell if you’re high, and they pulled the ears up over their eyes, which must be very disorienting, like someone grabbing a fistful of your hair and rubbing it in your face. David Frei said that was to show off their long necks. Apparently they’re checking for the “champion conformation,” or the shape of the dogs’ body. Presumably they enjoy being show dogs? Like how some girls enjoy beauty pageants? Mostly I get the impression that they participate because their parents’ asked them too. Ugh. Stage moms.
The sporting group — or “gun dogs” as Mike MyFave kept saying — started us off. There are three kinds of these hunters: pointers, which mark the game; setters, which flush the game; and retrievers, which, yep, retrieve. The dogs streamed into the stadium ring, heads held high since their handlers basically choke them out with the leashes. Everyone took a victory lap to show off and then stood politely by a yellow box with their breed name on it. The boxes looked like a podium, which I assumed they would stand on, but no. Turns out many aspects of dog shows are counterintuitive. Noted.
First up for the night, it’s Brittany, b**ch. The breed is a Brittany, but the dog’s name is Beckett. His personal ad that showed up on the screen says, “GCH Rainbow Splash’s Ruggedly Hansom.” I believe this means, Good Christian Hound who’s go-to My Little Pony is Rainbow Splash, and he’s interested in males who are ruggedly hansom. Upon further research, I discovered GCH stands for Grand Champion and Rainbow Splash’s Ruggedly Hansom is the registered name of the dog, as chosen by the owner to reflect the animal’s true nature. So really the only thing I had wrong was the first part.
Golden retrievers, despite being an all-American favorite (see Homeward Bound, Air Bud, etc.), have never won best in show at the Westminster Dog Show. Neither have Labradors, another top choice for dog owners. David Frei summed up the crux of the problem with dog shows from the casual owner’s perspective: “Goldens have this great, intense loyalty to their people and they’re saying ‘we’re having a good time,’ as opposed to maybe driving forward and being everything some of these terriers can be, up on their toes looking for trouble all the time. They’re just too sweet.” Coincidentally, he also put his finger on why politicians never turn out to be the men or women that we want them to be.
But let’s breeze past these darker thoughts and onto the next shiny dog. Pauly, the black lab, got more applause than even the Golden Retriever, but she didn’t look smug about it. The Labrador retriever hustled after her handler with her tongue lolling out, taking the screaming fans in stride. She hasn’t let fame change her.
Notable Fashion Choice: Cocker Spaniel’s handler wore a killer sparkle brown suit with sparkle brown flats to match. Nailed it.
After giving each of the dogs a once-over, the judge called out eight breeds for the final round. The Golden made it, as did the Brittany, and the one that I want to adopt, Wrangler, the foxy Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. After jogging another lap, while the judge smiled like he’s having a great time, the man in the tux pointed at Riley, the Irish Water Spaniel from Issaquah, WA to take first place, Beckham the Black Cocker, second place; the Golden Retriever, third; and the English Springer Spaniel, fourth. (Wrangler was robbed.)
Riley actually looks a lot like Jimi Hendrix, which I guess makes sense since they’re both from Seattle. Right on.
Working dogs are used on farms, as draft animals, livestock guardians and other functional daily matters, like dogsledding.
In this category, we got a lot of contenders for best name in the show. I think I have to award the Alaskan Malamute the gold for his name, Holy Puck. A close second, Mufasa, the Bernese Mountain Dog. Honorable mention goes to Buddha, the Dogue de Bordeaux, whose head looks exactly like a smiling, apple-cheeked Buddha.
I can’t tell if Mike MyFave is reading tweets or notes from the dog’s owner or what because the intros for the breeds are so strange. Then again this could be a result of the richly monotonous way that Mike reads his cue cards. It sounds like he’s making a joke, but he’s botched the delivery. It’s also a bit of a Ron Burgundy situation, where he reads what’s on the card – exactly as it’s written.
Top Mike MyFave Quotes:
“Long admired for their hunting ability, Curly’s are wicked smart. They’re not for the average owner, but if you’re willing to put in the time and energy for a Curly, you will be richly reward.” Totally. I love getting reward.
“It doesn’t matter where English Setter lives, as long as he lives in a house with people he loves.” And gets long walks on the beach.
“The Field Spaniel exhibits a healthy dose of impishness.”
“The Neapolitan Mastiff’s looks alone are often enough to deter an intruder. He’s not afraid of a little drool.” Rude.
Special mention from the commentary: “That’s Armand. He’s from Neemaha, Nebraska. Nemahah? Let’s go with Nemahah, until somebody tweets us that we’re wrong.”
Notable Fashion Choice: In this section it has to be the dogs’ hair. The most luxurious locks goes to Sasha, the Tibetan Mastiff for his shining lion’s mane. The best non-haircut goes to the Komondor for his white dreadlocks mess of a mop. Just do you. The worst haircut goes to the poor Portuguese Water Dog, Matisse, who got the full body reverse mullet treatment.
But the judge must have liked the cut because the Portuguese Water Dog won the group, followed by the Mastiff in second, the Akita in third and the Boxer in fourth.
The term Terrier is derived from the French verb “terrier,” which means to burrow. Terriers are experts at tracking and digging up rodents, rabbits, foxes and badgers. Quite a few celebrity dogs in this category, like the classic Scotty dog, the Bull Terrier (like Bullseye the Target dog), and the Jack Russell (like Wishbone).
Clearly there are lots of popular Terriers, but the fan favorite in this category had to be the Cairn Terrier, for the laymen, that’s Toto from The Wizard of Oz. (Fun fact: Toto made $125 bucks a week.) Eddie, the Cairn is as cute as an Ewok and I want one immediately.
Instead of hobbies, dog shows say “enrichment activities,” which is how I will refer to my hobbies from now on. The Flat Coat Retriever’s hobby is excavation, which I guess is a fancy way of saying that he digs up the yard every chance he gets. That’s my hobby too. Other great enrichments: loves giving double high fives (Barney from Hampton, MA), loves chasing sand crabs (Riley from Kitty Hawk, NC), loves watching Seinfeld (Trapper from Bay Village, OH).
The Dandie Dinmont Terrier named Gilbert was the only one of his breed entered in the show and, boy, did he look pleased as punch to be there. David Frei noted that the Dandie’s tail is supposed to resemble a scimitar, which is probably why Gilbert’s owners gave him a haircut that looks like Aladdin’s turban. Nicely done.
Notable Fashion Choice: The judge was wearing a cummerbund with a Welsh Terrier on it, since that was his breed as a trainer. Erica Hill summed it up well: “Some people wear their heart on their sleeve, others on their cummerbund.”
Taking top honors in this category is the Wire Fox Terrier in first place, the Skye Terrier in second, the Border Terrier in third and the Russell Terrier in fourth.
BEST IN SHOW
Wow, after 90 dashing hairdos and 360 prancing paws, we’re down to only seven final dogs. Remember that other than the three who won tonight, there are four from Monday night.
Toy: Classy the Miniature Pinscher
Non-sporting: Ally the Standard Poodle
Herding: CoCo the Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Hound: Nathan the Bloodhound
Sporting: Riley the Irish Water Spaniel
Working: Matisse the Portuguese Water Dog
Terrier: Sky the Wire Fox Terrier
The winner of this title doesn’t get a cash prize, merely the pride of being America’s number one pup and, of course, a big silver cup. The owners make up the financial difference with the money they are able to bring in by breeding the winning dog.
Cue the spotlights, like this is a Vegas Fight Night, and each of the category winners takes a lap while the crowd cheers madly. Applause-wise, Nathan the Bloodhound was definitely the favorite. I was pulling for the CoCo the Corgi and her short little legs though.
In strides our Best In Show judge, Ms. Betty Regina Leininger of Frisco, TX. Ms. Betty Regina was wearing a royal purple evening gown and a heap of diamonds on her throat. She stepped into the center ring without having seen any of the dogs before this moment. She must pick the winner based on her assessment of various events, like “the stack,” which is when the dogs stand perfectly still and say, “I’m a winner baby.” David Frei’s tip for being number one: “You’d better have that divine moment of inspiration when the judge looks at you.”
Despite the crowd’s affection for Nathan, it was Sky, the Wire Fox Terrier, who caught the judge’s eye. Sky’s handler scooped him up and kissed him, before also kissing Ms. Betty Regina’s hand. How chivalrous. Ally, the Standard Poodle won the reserve Best In Show (runner-up). All in all, I’d say it was a successful night, but the judge’s decision was not a groundbreaking choice. Terriers have won Best In Show at Westminster 46 times and Wire Foxes have won 14 times. Should’ve been the Corgi. How could she turn down those ears?
UPDATE: We fixed the photo, so the 2014 winner is pictured!