The American Kennel Club licenses nearly 1,500 dog shows per year, that’s nearly three shows per day, and yet not any one of them—or all of them together—gets the attention of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. All of the club’s publicity on television, radio, internet and subway walls claims rightly: “There’s only one.” The coming of the Purple and Gold to Manhattan has been heralded this year by an unprecedented media frenzy, and the winner of tomorrow night’s show will be crowned “America’s Top Dog,” whether it’s his or her first Best in Show or one-hundredth. As Westminster is the country’s only all-champion show, it’s no surprise that many of tonight’s competitors have won more Best in Show awards than any other in their breed’s history.
And while Westminster holds the distinction of being the nation’s most prestigious show, many exhibitors contend that it is still “the crapshoot of the dog world.” Many top dogs don’t even progress past the daytime Breed competition to make it to the Group finals at night. Many surprises, upsets, and brave choices (or stupid, depending on your point of view) characterize the judging at America’s oldest and greatest dog show. Here in the world’s most famous arena, dog show judges can leave their mark on the dog-show world: they can make history; they can reward a worthy career, whether dog, handler, or breeder; or they can kill a giant.
The 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show featured 185 breeds and varieties of purebred dog, including six new breeds, five of which have never competed at the show before. The most talked about new breed, the Xoloitzcuintli (called “Show-low” for short) is a hairless breed from Mexico. The breed, in fact, was originally recognized by the American Kennel Club as the Mexican Hairless way back in 1887, just ten years after the Westminster show began. In 1959, due to a severe decline in registrations, the breed was dropped by AKC; over a half century later, in 2010, the breed was recognized again by its traditional Aztec name.
The first Group to enter the big arena on Monday night was the Hound Group, of which 29 breeds or varieties competed, from the exotically coated Afghan Hound to the sleek, fleet Whippet. From Newton, CT, Patricia Laurans is enjoying her third time judging a Group at Westminster, having judged the Working Group in 2006 and the Herding Group in 1996. Her show-dog career began in 1963 as a handler of all breeds and as a breeder of the Laurwyn German Wirehaired Pointers.
A new coonhound breed, hunting scenthounds bred to tree raccoons, competed in the Hound Group this evening, the American English Coonhound, which for years was known as the English or Redtick Coonhound in other registries. For years, the Black and Tan Coonhound, first registered in 1945, was the only coonhound breed. In 2009, two more coonhound breeds were recognized, the Bluetick Coonhound the Redbone Coonhound, making a total of four in the Hound Group.
An excited audience clapped and howled for their favorite Hounds, with the Beagles, Dachshunds, Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen (PBGV), Irish Wolfhound and Whippet, getting exceptionally rousing receptions. From the line-up, Ms. Laurans pulled the 13-inch Beagle, the Longhaired and Wirehaired Dachshunds, the PBGV, and the Norwegian Elkhound and the Rhodesian Ridgeback. Group 1 was awarded to the Wirehaired Dachshund, GCh. Raydochs Playing with Fire V Gleishorbach SW, handled by Cheri Kopenhaver; Group 2, the PBGV, GCh. Jodell Boogie Back to Texas, Group 3, Whippet, Ch. Starline’s Chanel, the top-winning Whippet of all time and the winner of Group 1 at Westminster in 2010; and Group 4, Norwegian Elkhound, GCh. Vin-Melca’s The Norseman, handled by his breeder-owner Patricia Craige Trotter. The Dachshund is a big winning dog who easily engaged the crowd and judge alike. A Wirehaired Dachshund won the Group at the Garden fifteen years ago in 1997, but tonight’s winner, “Cinders,” is the first female Dachshund to ever win the Group.
Trotting out at their own pace, the Toy dogs entered the big ring next, some moving sprightly (the Italian Greyhound and Miniature Pinscher), some kicking with self-appointed importance (the Shih Tzu and Havanese) and one rolling unhurriedly (the Pekingese), all with dignity, panache and no small amount of excitement. The man selected to sort out the tough competition in this Group was Mr. Tim Catterson (New Castle, IN), who has long been a Toy dog aficionado, having bred both Italian Greyhounds and Chihuahuas over his nearly forty years in purebred dogs. An AKC licensed judge for over 25 years, he has judged Toys around the world, including China, Russia, Australia and South Africa, and in tonight’s Group he had the opportunity of judging imports from England and the Netherlands. This was Mr. Catterson’s first time judging a Group at Westminster.
From his precious line-up of Toys, Mr. Catterson put on his short list: Affenpinscher, Brussels Griffon, English Toy Spaniel (particolor), Maltese, Miniature Pinscher, Silky Terrier, Toy Manchester Terrier and Pekingese. Claiming his second consecutive Westminster Group win was the Pekingese, GCh. Palacegarden Malachy, a British import handled flawless by David Fitzpatrick. Mr. Catterson’s Group 2 was Affenpinscher GCh. Banana Joe V. Tani Kazari, a Dutch import handled by Ernesto Lara ; Group 3 the Miniature Pinscher,GCh. Marlex Classic Red Glare, handled by Armando Angelbello, this year’s Best Owner-Handler; and Group 4 the Silky Terrier, GCh. Wind Dancer Jenstar Backstage Pass.
Entering the ring next was another highly competitive Group, the Non-Sporting dogs, including many of the fancy’s most accomplished showmen, the Standard and Miniature Poodles, Bichon Frise, and Lhasa Apso, to name a few. As has commonly happened at the Garden, many top dogs lost during the day’s Breed judging, so a few of last year’s big winners were missing from the arena by evening. Judging the still-impressive Group was Mr. Randy Garren (Apex, NC) who has been both a successful breeder and handler in the dog sport. While this is his first time judging a Group, he is no stranger to the big ring at Madison Square Garden. As a handler, he won seven Groups at Westminster, and one of those Group firsts went on to Best in Show, the Standard Poodle Ch. Whisperwind On A Carousel, in 1991. Along with his partner, Dennis McCoy, Mr. Garren has finished about 1,000 champions and won over 500 Bests in Show.
Two new Non-Sporting breeds competed in the Group this year, the Norwegian Lundehund and Xoloitzcuintli, represented by the crowd’s clear favorite in this line-up, GCh. Bayshore Georgio Armani, a multiple-Best in Show winner bred by J. Frank Bayliss, who indeed made Mr. Garren’s short list along with the Bichon Frise, Shar Pei, Dalmatian, Lowchen and Miniature Poodle. Group 1 was awarded to the ever-popular Dalmatian, GCh. Spotlights Ruffian, handled by Michael Scott; Group 2 to the Chinese Shar-Pei GCh. Vaje’s Miss Jayne Hathaway, the winner of this Group last year; Group 3 to the Lowchen GCh. Windsor Bihar Chasing Rainbows: and Group 4 to the Miniature Poodle GCh. Surrey Sugar Baby, a multi-BIS winner and Top Mini in the country, bred by the handler Kaz Hosaka.
The fourth and final Group for the evening was the Herding Group, which includes many of the country’s favorite family companions, the German Shepherd, Collie, Australian Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog, and the Corgis. Bred to move sheep and the like, these would-be/should-be herders bounded into the ring as if they were chasing a flock of ill-behaved goats running amok! Judging the Herding Group, Mr. Houston Clark (Decatur, KY) started his career in dogs over fifty years ago when he began competing with German Shepherd Dogs. For 25 years, Mr. Clark was a highly successful professional handler, having campaigned top dogs in all seven groups. His judging career began in 1987, and he judged the Sporting Group at Westminster in 1998.
Mr. Houston is the first Westminster judge to have the Entelbucher Mountain Dog and Finnish Lapphund in his Group at the Garden, two new Herding breeds competing this year. Making Mr. Clark’s cut were the Australian Shepherd, Bouvier des Flandres, German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog, Rough Collie, Puli, and Shetland Sheepdog.
Mr. Clark’s choice to represent the Herding Group in tomorrow’s Best in Show line-up was the crowd’s loud favorite, the German Shepherd, GCh. Babheim’s Captain Crunch, handled by one of the nation’s most successful professional handlers, James. A. Moses. Group 2 was awarded to Bouvier des Flandres, GCh. Quiche’s Grand Finale; Group 3, Old English Sheepdog, GCh. Bugaboo’s Big Shoot; and Group 4, Shetland Sheepdog, GCh. Mystic Ava Gardner, bred in Canada. The American-bred OES is owned by a Brazilian and was handled by a Canadian.