It’s that time of year again, The Westminster Kennel Club Show, when pure bred dogs from all over the country go paw to paw to take home the coveted prize of Best in Show. I have gone to this show every year as a member of the press since 1999. It’s like the Super Bowl for dog lovers.
And speaking of the Super Bowl … I have to admit that I have never watched a single Super Bowl. If the Miami Dolphins aren’t in it, which they haven’t been since 1984, I really can’t be bothered. But that’s not bad news for me because Animal Planet plays The Puppy Bowl in the same time slot, and I watch it every year – this year, I was one of 8.7 million other viewers who were taken with those precious puppy faces. The Puppy Bowl is endlessly entertaining – puppies romping and tumbling and scoring “touch downs” by taking toys into the “end zone.” It doesn’t get a whole lot cuter than that.
The thing that struck me this year in the Puppy Bowl was that most of the “players” were mixed breeds – mutts. This is different from years past, when many pure breed dogs took the field. I did a little research and found that all of the pups were rescue dogs and were up for adoption from 25 different rescues and shelters. Kudos to Animal Planet for encouraging adoption, especially of mixed breeds. I believe that many of the past years’ Puppy Bowl players were also up for adoption, but I don’t ever remember an “mostly mutt” team before.
Having volunteered in two shelters, I have seen how hard it can be to adopt out a “plain brown dog,” and black dogs have a challenging syndrome of their own. People seem to be drawn to purebred dogs, or those that seem to have a “primary breed.” Certainly the “doodle” phenomenon has been changing that a little. It’s “cool” now to have a Mixed Breed dog if you can add the word “doodle” to it somewhere. But when that dog goes to the shelter, it’s just a “mixed breed” again.
Whenever someone asks me what “breed” Pearl is, I always shrug and either say “mutt-from-the-pound,” or “I don’t know” – I say the latter when I want to hear what they think she is. One man said to me, “Oh, come on, she has to have a breed.” No, actually, she doesn’t. She’s a mutt from the pound. I have no idea what she is. It would be fun to know, but I don’t lose sleep over it.
Which brings me to The Westminster Kennel Club Show. There’s not a mutt or doodle in sight. There are perfectly quaffed Poodles and blown-out Briards, and breeds that you’ll likely only see at Madison Square Garden (not on your block), like the Entlebuckher Mountain Dog and the Cesky Terrier, two new breeds entered this year.
I have to say, mutts do rock. I live with one and she’s the source of endless joy for me. But I live with two pure bred Miniature Schnauzers too, and they are amazing. For me, a dog is a dog. I can get just as thrilled at watching mutts romp around the Puppy Bowl, or participating as a spectator in the second oldest sporting event in the United States (the Kentucky Derby is the oldest next to Westminster, but only by one year). I do know how controversial dog shows are – many people are adamantly against them, and some are against purebred dogs. I understand their arguments. But I still like The Westminster Kennel Club show.
I have interviewed dozens of show dog owners over the years, including several of the show’s winners. These dogs are not relegated to kennels, bred to exhaustion, and tossed out once they are used up. That’s what backyard breeders do. That’s what puppy mills do. Most of the dogs at Westminster live at home with the owners or handlers (who treat them like their own dogs), and live the good life of a pampered pet.
Just like us, these owners understand their dogs’ quirks, likes and dislikes, and cater to them just as we do. If a dog didn’t like being shown, that preference would be apparent in the ring and the dog wouldn’t place, much less win. And believe me, it’s not about the money for people who show dogs – most owners lose money showing their dogs. Showing is about the love of the breed. I’ve seen that for years and I wouldn’t report it that way if it weren’t true.
Imagine Madison Square Garden, full to the rafters, a few celebrities in plain view sitting amongst the crowd, many people in formal evening wear. The lights dim and the crowd goes wild as the spotlights follow the dogs trotting into the ring – and then your favorite breed enters and it’s almost as if it’s your own dog out there, vying for the big prize. When the Miniature Schnauzers take the ring, I know what it feels like to have a favorite football team, if only for a few minutes a year.
As usual, this year I’m rooting for the Miniature Schnauzers. Go Minis! What’s your favorite breed? Are you pro or anti dog shows? Why?
If you’re going to be at the Westminster Kennel Club Show, please send me a message on Facebook and let me know – I’ll make the time to meet you and say hi. And perhaps get you to root for the Mini Schnauzers with me too.