Countdown to Westminster
Allan Reznik |
FEBRUARY 11, 2010, 7:00 P.M. EST
To diehard dog fanciers the world over, February means only one thing: the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Photograph by Mary Bloom
On the weekend before the big event, the dogs really do take over the city. At the three airports – JFK, LaGuardia and Newark – exhibitors arrive with their champion show dogs, crates, trolleys, grooming tables and luggage, much to the fascination of the general public.
A conga line of limos, minivans and taxicabs double parks outside the hotels along Seventh and Thirty-Third, unloading weary humans and excited canines.
As if this weren’t enough of a clue to the non-dog-owning natives, dog-show banners flap in the breeze and the Madison Square Garden marquee proclaims to one and all that Westminster has come to town. The stars may be climbing over snowbanks, rather than gliding along the red carpet, but make no mistake: in every other way these are the Academy Awards of dogdom.
I have been attending Westminster and performing this annual ritual – through blizzards and heat waves – for 40 years, give or take. And whether I’ve driven to the Big Apple, taken the train or flown, the excitement never wanes. While the two-day dog show – held this year on February 15 and 16 – is the main event, this weekend will see an around-the-clock array of related functions.
There are specialties – dog shows for a single breed – held at the hotels within walking distance of the Garden. Cavaliers, Yorkies and Dachshunds are among the breeds that will be exhibited at these events. The Dog Judges’ Association of America holds educational seminars at Madison Square Garden. The Purina ProPlan Show Dogs of the Year Awards are handed out on Saturday night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the hottest ticket in town. On Sunday, my colleagues and I attend the Alliance of Purebred Dog Writers luncheon – then, a few hours later, on to the Dog Writers’ Association of America awards dinner. (And I am proud to report this blog is nominated for awards at both events.) TV and newspaper reporters congregate outside the hotels to capture the magic moments.
Everywhere around the city, dog people gather for brunches, private parties and get-togethers. Meanwhile handlers start moving into Madison Square Garden to set up for the show.
If you stand in the lobby of any of the adjacent hotels, you will see many of the most famous stars in our sport, both two- and four-legged. First-timers to the Garden are starstruck. Exhibitors brush past in fur coats and Nikes, trying to convince their dogs from warm-weather climes to pee on pavement in near-freezing temperatures.
Why do I keep coming back? I love the questionable fashion statements; the dogs getting acclimated to the city and eventually realizing this week is all about them; the cab drivers and waitresses who see me with my nose in a dog-show catalog and ask me to handicap the competition; impromptu cocktails with friends I see only once a year and groups of four quickly turning into groups of 24 as more and more friends spot us and join us.
There certainly are bigger shows, and warmer shows, and cheaper shows. But they don’t make shows any more glamorous or exciting than Westminster.
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