The Westminster Kennel Club has awarded Best in Show since 1877, making it America’s longest continuously held sporting event, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby. And we always look forward to the big show, which begins Monday at Madison Square Garden. Everybody has their cherished memories–who can forget when announcer Joe Garagiola cheerfully remarked about a female dog trotting by, “look at that sprightly little bitch”? That’s a moment that just doesn’t comes along very often.
There are always controversies and curiosities and intriguing new breeds (this year we welcome the Rat Terrier). There are favorite dogs denied glory (Cinders, the dignified wire-haired Dachshund, was runner-up a few years back to a possibly alien Pomeranian). There are also, of course, unworthy victors (the infamous Banana Jack, from last year, may be the most upsetting winner in the history of organized sport). Then there are beloved legends, (Josh, the Newfoundland, Stump, the Sussex Spaniel, Hickory, the Scottish Deerhound). These dogs are remembered longer than most NBC sitcoms.
It is indeed a terrific televised event, with deep-voiced announcer Michael LaFave intoning details about the history of each breed, which, when taken together, tell a fascinating story of sporting life, cultural preferences and royal prerogatives. It’s also great to hear that the Scottish Terrier “possesses a keen sense of fair play and openly considers itself superior to its master.” Of interest to the proprietor of this website, an English Springer Spaniel won top honors in 2007. While some of us are eagerly waiting for the day when a Bernese Mountain Dog has its day in the sun.
But it’s just as good to attend in person. Not the evening session, but during the day when there are competitions within each breed. You can walk down onto the floor where four groups are in action at a time, and assess the talent in the room. To be honest, most dogs have had the naughtiness trained out of them–if you hear a bark it’s almost a shock. Then head backstage where all dogs competing that day are lined up relaxing next to their kennels. The owners and trainers and admirers are all wandering around, it’s an incredible cross-section of the country. There’s a blow-drying platform for the toy dogs, there’s a pile of sawdust in the corner for them to do their business, you might even come across Triumph, the insult comic dog–what more could you want? –DC