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a dog day afternoon, evening, and the next day.
walker takes in the westminster kennel club dog show
by jeffrey d. walker
2.23.05
news


Valentine’s Day 2005 in New York City belonged to the dogs. But not just any dogs: the finest show dogs the United States has to offer. This is my outing to the first day’s individual breed judging at the 129th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is billed as “the second oldest consecutively held sporting event in America.” Taking place over two days, judging is broken down by individual breeds. In each breed, an award is given for the “Best in Breed” and the “Best of Opposite Sex.” Judges also have the discretion of giving awards of merit depending on how many entrants there are in a particular breed. In the evening, the best of the breeds are gathered together for “Group Judging.” The Groups are the “Working Group”, “Terrier Group”, “Toy Group”, “Non-Sporting Group”, “Sporting Group”, “Hound Group” and “Herding Group.” These group competitions are what television viewers are more familiar with, as well as, of course, the “Best in Show” prize.

For the first time in the competition’s 129-year history, all advance tickets were sold out. We arrived a little after 10:30 (judging had started at 9:00 that morning.) Entering the main arena of Madison Square Garden, I was at once struck by the smell of hot dogs mixed with the smell of canine dogs. I thought of it at first as funny, but was soon overcome by the Homer Simpson response, “Mmmmm… Hot Dogs...” I contemplated how long I should wait before hitting the beer concessions I had noticed on the way in (turns out I never did.) However, with the bottom section of seating already filled and the second level quickly getting that way, I decided that it was best to find a seat first.

We found space midway up the stadium. A spectator from these seats can see a little of what was going on in each of the six rings below, but not really make out any particulars. With the aid of the schedule, one can certainly figure out which breed is being judged in each of the rings at any given time, but the level of scrutiny the little canines undergo at the hands of their judges cannot be fully appreciated by anyone sitting this far out. There are no announcements over the loudspeaker to help keep track of the action. I’m not sure if this is because such announcement would be somewhat confusing with six competitions going on at once, or if it would offend the dogs’ sensitive ears.

While seeing dogs paraded about before you in this fashion is certainly entertaining, and despite my sincere love of dogs of all breeds, I soon found myself growing weary of the dog competition I’d enjoyed for so many years on television. I don’t feel I was alone in this sentiment. My constant companion and future wife Amanda took a nap during part of the competition, though, in her defense, she had been ill for approximately a week before. Still, there were several others nearby us in the stands I also noticed napping. Some people had children with them who sat munching hot dogs and cheering at random intervals, none of which tended to coincide with any actual climax in the competition below. I drew the conclusion that these kids could have been entertained just about anywhere.

Closer to the action, though, the enthusiasm was much thicker. Huddled on the floor around the rings sat an elite bunch, dressed a bit more formally than those of us in the upper seats. Many of these patrons actually called over the men carrying trays of champagne. These spectators poured over lists of entrants with a level of concern rivaled by gamblers at a horse track. In these seats, one might hear someone refer to a particular dog as a “magnificent bitch” (yes, I did hear one woman gleefully shout this, and I’m altogether sure she was dead serious).

While Amanda snoozed, I pulled out my recently purchased digital camera to get in some shooting practice. Using various settings and filters, I shot close to 200 photos as we sat there. Because the seats became more and more crowded as the day went on, Amanda and I never ended up moving. And quite frankly, we soon became bored. In the end, we didn’t even stay for the group judging that night, opting instead to make it home for a decent evening’s sleep before work the next morning.

I had planned on writing about the show for this month’s Intrepid. But as we drove home, I wondered what I would say about the Westminster Dog Show. I wondered how I could make this piece exciting. Even for those like myself who love dogs, I felt a little let down trying to make out what they were doing from such a distance. And for people who don’t care for dogs, what kind of story could this be for them? Where is the excitement? There were no dogfights, no World Wrestling Entertainment-style trash talking between the competitors, no man with two left feet, no overt drama to speak of. I wondered if I did my readers a disservice by not indulging myself on the champagne and beer vendors until I could report in a true Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo-journalism style.

But later that evening as I reviewed my photographs of the show, each heavily zoomed in from my far-off vantage point, I could clearly see the excitement I was missing below. The look a dog gives his handler when he thinks he is about to receive a treat. The worry on the face of the handler who desperately wishes her little companion would stop trying to sniff the butt of the next dog in line. The tongue wagging grin of a dog as he gets his photo next to the “best in breed” sign. I have concluded that, at least for me, the fun is in the individual competitors themselves.

Excitement, not surprisingly, is linked to proximity. While I did enjoy the spectacle of 33 pugs circling far below me, it seems I prefer seeing them up close on television, or even seeing their frozen expression on a heavily magnified photograph. So I guess if you want to really enjoy a show of this nature, you’d better get there early to ensure a good seat. Because, of course, the best part of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are the dogs themselves.

So without further ado, I offer you 109 photos I took at the show, courtesy of shutterfly. Click: Walker’s 2005 Westminster Photos.


ABOUT JEFFREY D. WALKER

A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker

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COMMENTS

jeffrey walker
2.23.05 @ 8:55a

NOTE TO READERS:

if you cannot access the photos from the link, please e-mail me at the small envelope next to me head. I'll try to help.

tracey kelley
2.24.05 @ 11:43a

I get a big kick out of watching this on tv, but for me, proximity makes all the difference, like you said, and one of the many reasons why I don't go to any live performance unless I'm close up: what I see on tv (or hear on the stereo) is far more engaging than if I'm sitting 30 rows back.

I went to a regional cat show a couple of years ago, and found that whole affair to be fascinating. Imagine rows and rows of cats in cages...and display areas that featured judges attempting to "examine" the cat in a variety of ways, play with it and so on.

Let's just say some cats wanted to participate, and some didn't. Hysterical!



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