To anyone with a satellite dish or Internet access, the name “Westminster” usually conjures images of dogs on display. For two nail-biting nights, sofa-seated spectators hunker down to watch America’s most prestigious purebred dog show on live television. They cheer for dogs of all sizes, from Chihuahuas to Mastiffs, and are introduced to the more than 170 breeds and varieties currently recognized by the American Kennel Club. Armchair judges even get to vote online for the “fan favorite.”
What viewers at home can’t see are the events surrounding the show. Westminster entails a full week of activities that draw purebred dog fanciers from all over the world. These include business meetings, educational seminars, and fundraising benefits held during the days and nights leading up to the evening telecasts. Westminster Week includes several venerable specialty shows that limit competition to specific breeds and breeds related by a similar function. A victory at one of these events is coveted, and lends an air of distinction to the prizewinner, creating a buzz that carries them on to the main event.
Once the hard work is over, and every dog has been fed, exercised and put to bed, anyone with an appetite for more can take a bite out of the Big Apple by catching a Broadway show, visiting the Metropolitan Museum or hopping a cab to a favorite restaurant in Chinatown or Little Italy. Although New York is the city that never sleeps, seasoned exhibitors know when to leave the party. Morning comes pretty early on a dog show circuit and the whole world will be tuning in to watch them work their magic.
Let’s explore a few of the sites handlers and owners might visit while in New York.
1. The American Kennel Club: Welcome Back!
Headquartered alongside the Mad Men of advertising, the AKC houses one of the most comprehensive canine libraries ever assembled. When one considers the organization’s impressive collection of art and antiquities, no dog lover’s visit to New York is complete without a stop at the AKC’s open house.
260 Madison Ave., Fourth Floor
2. Central Park: Manhattan’s Dog Park
Tourists quickly learn that New Yorkers love their dogs. No matter their stripe (or spot), you’ll find dogs on every street corner and in every park throughout Manhattan. Central Park provides nearly two dozen areas where the city’s canines and their people congregate freely. All you need is hot chocolate and a park bench to enjoy some serious dog (and people) watching.
3. FAO Schwartz: Sit. Stay. Come!
For those interested in getting out of the cold, try window- shopping at this landmark toy store. Every February, Snoopy, Blue and Clifford entertain toddlers and their caretakers, a seasonal reminder that the dog show is in town. For customers not quite ready to take on the responsibilities of puppy ownership, these stuffed versions will make impatient kids very happy.
767 Fifth Ave.
4. Progressive Dog Club: A Different Kind of Toy
Offering companionship in pint-sized packages, toy breeds are admired for their diminutive size just as they were in ancient Rome. Although no longer the exclusive right of royals and Rockefellers, the breeds entered at this toy dogs-only specialty show are more than capable of charming their way into the hearts and homes of paupers and presidents alike.
New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania
401 Seventh Ave.
5. William Secord Gallery: Pedigreed Portraits
Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, founder of the famed Morris and Essex Kennel Club and St. Hubert’s Giralda (an early predecessor of today’s shelters that provided a safe haven for lost and injured animals), encouraged the sport of purebred dogs in many ways, including commissioning several well-known artists to immortalize her favorites. The St. Hubert’s Collection, on display from February 11 through March 24, represents part of her vast collection of dog-related works, the proceeds of which will benefit the St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, one of the nation’s longest-serving animal-welfare organizations.
52 East 76th Street, 3rd Floor
6. Angel On A Leash Benefit: Pooch Power
What do Uno the Beagle and Rufus the Bull Terrier have in common? Both are Westminster Best-in-Show winners and both are spokesdogs for Angel On A Leash, an animal-assisted-therapy program that encourages wellness through visitations by certified teams at partner institutions. Begun as a charitable activity of the Westminster Kennel Club, the program aims to improve the emotional and physical health of patients and staff at health care institutions nationwide, from the Ronald McDonald House of New York City to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Saturday night’s cocktail reception, hosted in one of Manhattan’s finer dog-friendly hotels, affords volunteers an opportunity to say “thank you” to the many donors whose generosity allows the organization’s good work to continue.
371 Seventh Ave.
7. Purina Pro Plan 57th Annual Show Dog of the Year Awards: Winkie Wins!
An invitation to attend this glamorous awards dinner, presented by Dogs in Review magazine, is perhaps the most-coveted ticket in town. Judges, owners, handlers and various dog people enjoy an evening of camaraderie where the very best are honored for their work as exhibitors, breeders, groomers, trainers, veterinarians and shelter operators. This production is the sole-surviving “sponsored” dinner of the week, recognizing the industry’s top talent while celebrating the dogs that make it possible.
Grand Hyatt Hotel (invitation only)
109 E. 42nd St.
8. Take The Lead After Party: Camaraderie and Congratulations
Held after Monday night’s televised Group judging, this party helps to raise funds for persons in the sport of dogs who live with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. Organized since 1993 by a few devoted fanciers responding to the AIDS crisis, Take the Lead, a not-for-profit foundation, has raised millions to assist those who are unable to work and pay for their insurance premiums, transportation costs and other non-medical expenses. Dog clubs throughout the country work year round to help raise money to see that this organization’s good work may continue, and in Manhattan, they celebrate and come together to give thanks.
Club Bar and Grill
Madison Square Garden
9. Blarney Rock Pub: A Poodle and a Pint
For those who forgot to pack their tuxedos, there always exist the kind of come-as-you-are places where everybody knows your name. During Westminster Week, this quintessential Irish pub opens its well-worn door to the dog-show fraternity, serving up Salty Dogs (and even a little Hair of the Dog) to anyone with enough nerve to muscle their way through a standing-room-only crowd. On any given night, the talented bartenders serve up cocktails to everyone from kennel assistants to the breeders, owners and handler of this year’s Best-in-Show winner.
137 West 33rd Street
On with the show! No matter how the world’s most glamorous dog show is celebrated, New York and Westminster will always be the couple that everyone makes plans to see again next year.
Dan Sayers is a freelance writer, designer, illustrator and dog fancier living in Merchantville, N.J.