As the flawless marketing campaigns for Westminster bills itself: “Westminster—There’s Only One!” Indeed there is, and most dog fanciers would say, “Thank heavens for that!” It’s not that the Westminster Kennel Club evening judging isn’t the most elegant and regal dog show event in the country—the world!—or that Madison Square Garden, the most famous sports arena on the planet, isn’t the largest and best for spectacle and visibility. No dog fancier would deny any of that.
A nearly 3,000-dog event in the busiest city in the nation certainly presents challenges to most exhibitors, not to mention the traditionally unforgiving zero-degree weather, the guaranteed precipitation (a few years ago New York got two feet of snow on the Saturday before the show!), and the gloriously impolite chaos that is “New York City.”
But, let’s face it: the daytime judging at Madison Square Garden was never ideal. Exhibitors frequently complained about the crowds, the pandemonium in the bench area and the space limitations in the aisles and the rings. There were too many breeds in too few rings. The rings for most breeds were too small for the dogs to be properly gaited. The giant Working breeds, like the Mastiff and Great Dane, couldn’t even get started, and many Sporting Dogs and Hounds, like Irish Setters and Bloodhounds, were also cramped for space. And there was no way for a handler of a Greyhound or Scottish Deerhound to kick up some dust with the fleet-footed sighthounds in the Breed ring.
By definition and charter, the Westminster Kennel Club was always a New York City club, and there was no way that the show was ever going to move out of Manhattan. Madison Square Garden, in all its incarnations—four different arenas over the years—has always been Westminster’s home.
Another defining element for Westminster is that the show is a bench show, which means all of the dogs exhibited on a given day must be on display in the benching area for the public to view and meet. A bench show from its very first show in 1877, Westminster is one of the few bench shows left in the country, and this feature sets the show apart and makes it both historical and special.
In recent years, due to renovations at Madison Square Garden, the benching area—featuring the familiar purple and gold plywood stands and hanging breed signs—had been severely diminished. Truth be told, the “backstage” at the Garden was never big enough: nonstop crowds of cramped spectators crawled from side to side, barely able to find the dogs they came to see. For exhibitors it often was virtually impossible (and maddening) to escape the benching area on time to get to their rings. Adding to the lunacy—hot dogs, doggie jewelry, and magazine subscriptions were being hocked by vendors in the benching area. Visitors merely thought this was what “Manhattan” was like. Rush hour on Wall Street or Christmas week in Rockefeller Center was never as bad as the Westminster benching area at Madison Square Garden!
For the first time in its history, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show will be taking place in two locations in New York City. The daytime portion of the show—the breed judging—will be taking place on Piers 92/94, located on West 55th Street and the West Side Highway, a few blocks north and 22 blocks west of Madison Square Garden, where the evening Group judging, Junior Showmanship Finals, and Best in Show judging will be held.
The 137th edition of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show will host nearly 3,000 dogs, the largest entry in 15 years. The expansive space at Piers 92/94 offers exhibitors and spectators many advantages. The Piers offer over 200,000 square feet of exhibition space, 20-foot ceilings and no columns blocking anyone’s view of the rings. The halls will provide larger rings—12 of them, twice as many as Madison Square Garden—so that the 30+-inch Working breeds (Great Danes, Mastiffs, and Neapolitan Mastiffs) and the super tall Hounds (Greyhounds, Salukis, and Irish Wolfhounds) will have more room to strut their stuff. At the Piers, visitors will be able to enjoy Westminster’s hallmark purple and gold benching area, where all dogs entered in that day’s competition will be available for public visitation for the whole day. The new Westminster benching area will be the best place to puppy shop in the country. Visitors can meet reputable, knowledgeable breeders who are present and attending to their own dogs and usually have pamphlets and brochures available for interested new owners. The club says, “The Westminster legacy of educating the public about purebred dogs and responsible ownership will come front and center once again.”
The dog fancy has every hope that the country’s peerless dog show, Westminster, will be even better on the Piers. Stay tuned for more!