Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Westminster is Today. Don't miss it!

The Spectator’s Guide to America’s Dog Show February 1415, 2017, or, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dog Shows But Were Afraid To Ask!

All About Westminster

A choreography of grapely-purple and sparkly-gold on a backdrop of a rich green carpet. A cacophony of canines amidst a murmuring of voices and sporadic cheering.

And so begins another premier dog show, the Westminster Kennel club Dog show, a February TV tradition, a seemingly out-of-reach dog show but, yes, you CAN walk in off the street and, luck permitting, sit in the first row ringside and theoretically ‘reach out and touch’ the dogs competing in the ring during the day (a faux pas – but you CAN meet them ‘backstage’ with their owners’ permission – champions all!) for a reasonable price Monday and Tuesday (Saturday and Sunder were the Obedience and Agility competitions and the Meet the Breeds, including cats!).

Tuesday, the Empire State Building will be lit up in purple and yellow (gold) to honor the 141st annual Westminster all-Breed Dog Show, the Greatest dog show on Earth. How cool is that?

You’ve watched it (live breed judging videos available starting Monday and Tuesday on the Westminster website,
www.westminsterkennelclub.org) on TV (see TV coverage at the end of the article). The Westminster website also has the exact time your breed will be competing along with live streaming.

Monday night the Hound group finals were aired (winner: Norwegian Elkhound) as well as the Toys (winner: Pekingese), the Herding dogs (winner: German Shepherd Dog) and Non-Sporting group (winner: miniature Poodle). Tuesday evening you will watch the Sporting dogs, the Working group, the Terriers and, finally, Best in Show!

In Canada, check out this Westminster webpage which includes information on digital live streaming.

But this year is the year to attend in person. It’s in nearby New York City, so you have no excuse for staying home! Read on for all the information you need to have a grand ol’ time at the show! Then you can always say, “I was there!” - one of thousands of in-person spectators.

Nearly 3,000 dogs in two days (Monday and Tuesday). The excitement is electric.

Dogs compete first by breed or variety (like height or color), then the 7 group finals are held in the evening with winners from the daytime breed shows, and the ‘final final’ on Tuesday evening pits the finalist from each of the 7 groups of dogs (Toy, Terrier, Working, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Herding, and Hounds) ‘against’ the 6 others.

Dogs are judged, not against each other, but against the written standard for their breed - from more than 3000 dogs whittled down to winners of almost 200 breeds and varieties to winners of 7 groups to the 1 Best in Show.

Who: All the dogs entered are champions as of 31 October. The top five dogs of each breed receive an automatic ‘pre-invite invitation.’ Other champions vie for the remaining hundreds of places by submitting an application during November and December. Highly populated (and popular) breed classes this year will be Goldens and Labs as usual, along with a few (very few) White Bull Terriers, Harriers, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, Neopolitan Mastiffs, and American Water Spaniels, to mention just some of the breeds.

The entry fee for dogs is quite affordable but there is no fee for this year’s nearly 100 junior handlers to compete although they must accumulate at least 10 wins in qualifying dog shows in the 12 months prior to Halloween and be between 9 and 17 years old  (inclusive) at the time.

What: The 141st annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the second longest-continuously-held sporting event in this country, just one year behind the Kentucky Derby (since 1877 – before even I was born!). A two-day event with thousands of dogs in New York City that is televised every year. With dog sports on the preceding weekend.

Where: New York City, Piers 92 and 94 for daytime breed competition and Madison Square Garden (Penn Plaza, 7th and 8th Avenues, 31st to 33rd Streets), across from the Hotel Pennsylvania, is the site for the evening competitions. Reserved seating is available at the evening event with general admission evening prices as well (nearly the same price as the entry fee for dogs but I’m sure this is merely coincidence). You can also get a One-Day daytime ticket.

Note that the daytime shows are at a different location from Madison Square Garden – Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson (with shuttle buses from the Hotel Pennsylvania and other Gold Star hotels): one benefit of this location is that instead of having 8 rings on Monday and 6 rings on Tuesday (for larger dogs), this venue can accommodate more rings!

Many dogs and their people stay at the Hotel Pennsylvania directly across the street from ‘the Garden.’ You WILL want to visit the hotel if only to see the dogs coming and going, but there are other goings-on there to see and do as well.

When: February 13 and 14, 2017 (always the week of Valentine’s Day), 8 am to 11 pm. Hounds, Toys, Non-Sporting and Herding dogs (and junior showmanship) were shown Monday with their group finals Monday night at 8. Dogs are shown simultaneously in each of several rings on the floor during the day. The Sporting, Working, and Terrier Groups are shown Tuesday with their group finals Tuesday night as well as the finals for Best in Show, all beginning at 8 pm, preceded by the Junior Handling Finals from the afternoon sessions. The field is thus narrowed from over 3000 entries to one final dog, America's favorite for the year.

You can make a week of it! There are related events starting the previous Friday with dog shows on the weekend, awards banquets galore, seminars, and a celebration breakfast the day after, as well as champion tours of the morning TV shows.

Why: Why not? It’s an event to remember. You’ve seen the show on TV, now catch it in person.

How: Take the train for a comfortable, elegant, quiet, unrushed, scenic ride into yesteryear and arrive relaxed. Drive to the Amtrak station near BWI airport and leave your car in the parking garage. Come just for the day or stay for Westminster Week. Call Amtrak at 1-800-AMTRAK or visit
www.amtrak.com for rates and schedules. If your train stops at Penn Station (trains from the south), where the evening Westminster is located, you don’t even have to venture outside for the evening shows! A real bonus during the blizzard of 2006 (more than two feet of snow fell in 12 hours the weekend of Westminster)! Driving may be easier but parking is not. However, you will not need your car in New York City - it is a walking city. And a taxi and subway city.

Details: General admission tickets are available (see
www.westminsterkennelclub.org for ‘oodles of poodles’ and much more information).

Breeds and Varieties: Some breeds have a class for each variety - color, size (Poodles, Beagles and Schnauzers, e.g.) and coat length. For example, black cocker spaniels are shown in a different class than parti-colored ones with a third cocker class being ASCOB (Any Solid Color Other than Black). On the other hand, black labs and yellow labs and chocolate labs all compete together.

Benched Show
: Westminster is one of the last benched dog shows in America: dogs are required to be 'backstage' in their 'benched' area during the show. You can go backstage and hang out with the dogs; speak with the owners, breeders, and handlers; watch the dogs being groomed; and shop, shop, shop. However, the crowds are similar to the holiday shopping season, winter coats and all. Westminster is for people who thrive on dogs (and crowds backstage). Wear comfortable shoes.

New breeds appear at Westminster for the first time each year!

Shopping: Ah, shopping! ‘Backstage’ at Westminster during the day show, you can find leashes, books, jewelry, new gadgets galore. Plenty to do across the street from the Garden, too! You can even mingle in the lobby as ‘dogs and their people’ come and go: meet the hotel’s canine concierge while you are there.

The required Westminster souvenir is the purple and gold guide and record book which you can’t do without but you can also pick up a poster, an official show catalog, notecards and maybe a print and DVD to watch over and over again.

Judging: The Best in Show (BIS) (the champion of champions) judge is selected a couple of years in advance and is sworn to secrecy, his or her name revealed only six months before the show. During the two days of daytime judging, this judge is sequestered so when the finals begin, the BIS judge is as unbiased as possible.

Sensation: Sensation, a Pointer, is the mascot of the Westminster Dog Show who appeared on the cover of the show catalog from 1936 through 1979, replaced by a head study from 1980-1982, and in 1983 a foil embossed version of the full body engraving returned (see photo of Sensation above).

Charities: Veterinary school scholarships are presented Tuesday night and other charities are supported by the Westminster Kennel Club, including the AKC Museum of the Dog, Take The Lead, the Animal Medical Center of NYC, the ASPCA, Angel On A Leash, Greyhound Friends, and Guide Dog Foundation For The Blind. Scholarships are also given to deserving junior handlers.

New Breeds:  newly recognized dog breeds will be shown for the first time each year:

There is only one Westminster! Be there in person this year! I’ll look for you. Be sure to bring a suitcase big enough to hold all the excitement and take home all your magnetic memories!

The Schedule

Tuesday, 9 am – 5 pm ET
Breed judging and Junior Showmanship Preliminaries (Sporting, Working and Terrier Breeds).
-Live Stream 10 rings for FREE on WKC website and 
FOX Sports GO. No TV provider login needed.

Tuesday, 2-4 pm ET
Selected live coverage of Breed judging and Junior Showmanship Preliminaries (Sporting, Working and Terrier Breeds).
Nat Geo Wild

Tuesday, 8-11 pm
Dog Show Group competitions (Sporting, Working and Terrier Breeds). Best in Show. LIVE on FS1.
-Live Stream on 
FOX Sports GO with TV provider login.

(This has been revised from my annual Westminster articles and updated for 2017 to the best of my ability in a short timeframe.) 

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